A Staten Island cop with ties to the Albanian mob pleaded guilty on Tuesday to shaking down the owner of an Astoria, Queens restaurant and neighborhood social club proprietors. Besnik Llakatura, 36, has been suspended without pay since his December 2013 arrest on extortion and gun-brandishing charges and now faces seven years to life in prison on the three counts he copped to.
"Through his participation in these extortion schemes, Besnik Llakatura turned his back on his badge and his community, choosing [to] break the laws he was sworn to uphold, rather than enforce them, and to thereafter extort members of the community he had sworn to protect," U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said in a statement.
The scheme began in 2013, when prosecutors say two of Llakatura's associates, fellow Albanian tough guys Denis Nikolla and Redinel Derrvishaj, paid a visit to a newly opened Astoria restaurant and told the owner he had to pay them $4,000 because he had opened in "our neighborhood." The owner, who Llakatura had befriended, turned to the crooked cop for guidance, not knowing that he was in cahoots with the two alleged goons. Llakatura discouraged the man from going to the police, saying that Devishaj would hurt him if he didn't pay, and that police involvement would only worsen matters.
When the business owner resisted paying, the feds say Denis Nikolla threatened him and chased him down the street with a gun. From there, the man began paying, coughing up $24,000 over six months. Investigators say they uncovered Llakatura's double-dealing role while wiretapping Nikolla and Dervishaj's phones. The FBI and NYPD cooperated on the investigation.
"I have no tolerance for corruption at any level in this department," NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said in a statement.
In another, similar scheme, Nikolla and Dervishaj allegedly demanded $1,000 a week from the owner of a club. Prosecutors expect the club owner to testify that when Dervishaj threatened him, he said to "ask around" about him. When the club owner consulted Llakatura, the cop purportedly told him Dervishaj is a "bad guy," who "run[s] Astoria" and could hurt his family in the U.S. and Albania.
In 2012, Dervishaj avoided charges for fatally stabbing a groom-to-be outside a Staten Island restaurant, after claiming self-defense. He was shot in 2007 during a gun battle after he and an associate rolled up on a Ridgewood, Queens house trying to collect an underworld debt. Dervishaj's brother Plaurent is wanted by the FBI and Interpol for four murders and his alleged role in founding and running an Albanian gang.
The club owner hid out, and fled the country for a time. At one point, Llakatura evidently broke his cover by, according to prosecutors, joining Nikolla and Dervishaj in threatening, punching, and pulling a gun on a friend of the businessman, demanding to know his whereabouts.
Llakatura has been a cop since 2006, and was also accused of placing a GPS device on the car of his mistress to stalk her, and of threatening her and her family. That charge has been dropped as part of Llakatura's plea deal. Llakatura's sentencing guidelines dictate a sentence of 12 years, 9 months to 14 years, 3 months, according to the Daily News.
"Mr. Llakatura has accepted responsibility for his unfortunate behavior and we are confident the judge will consider all the facts and circumstances and render an appropriate sentence," his lawyer, Eric Franz, told the tabloid.
The other two defendants are set to go to trial in March. Judge Eric Vitaliano has ordered the jury to be kept anonymous and partially sequestered out of fear of tampering and intimidation. A witness is expected to testify that a mutual friend of Nikolla's relayed a message asking him to demand the restaurant owner recant his testimony, and that a stranger told him Nikolla's family could pay him to change his own account.
Wiretaps purportedly capture Llakatura boasting about picking up a high-ranking Albanian police officer from the airport while carrying guns, including an AK-47, in his car.
Llakatura is named in two federal civil rights lawsuits that together settled for $168,000.
One stemmed from a 2010 incident where an African-American motorist claims Llakatura and four other cops followed him to a Staten Island store parking lot, where an officer Salvatore Scotto allegedly said, "I don't like this nigger's attitude," and all five beat and arrested him, then had him held for more than 24 hours with a fractured elbow before getting medical treatment. The incident began, according to the lawsuit, when the man came to a slow spot in the road caused by police activity and Scotto said out of nowhere, "fuck you," to which the driver responded, "fuck off." The city's Law Department settled that suit for $75,000 in 2014.
In another instance, two sets of parents claimed that in 2008 their teen children and a third high schooler were waiting for city buses near the Staten Island Ferry Terminal after school when several officers approached, asked what they were doing, and a commanding officer, Sgt. Brian Rabbittie, ordered the cops to "arrest the bench," according to the suit. Officers allegedly attacked and cuffed the teens, pepper-spraying one, then arrested them and charged two of the three with felony assault, resisting arrest, and inciting a riot. The charges were dismissed the next year after repeated court hearings. The Law Department settled in 2011 for $75,000 plus $18,000 in legal fees.