July 17, 2013 at 10:02 AM ET
A New York man has pleaded not guilty of trying to extort $200,000 from embattled celebrity cook and restaurateur Paula Deen.
Thomas George Paculis, 62, appeared in Georgia’s Chatham County Superior Court on Tuesday to enter the plea. He was arrested in Newfield, N.Y., by authorities on July 5. Paculis is accused of trying to extort Deen in exchange for keeping quiet about “true and damning” statements she made in the past.
A complaint said Paculis initially tried extorting $250,000 from Deen but eventually lowered the amount after a discussion via e-mail with one of Deen's attorneys, reports the Associated Press.
Deen's alleged remarks, and her relationship with Paculis, were unclear.
Deen has been embroiled in scandal after she admitted using racial slurs, a detail that came to light after a May 17 deposition transcript was leaked. Deen and her brother Earl "Bubba" Heirs are being sued by a former manager of one of Deen's restaurants over their allegedly discriminatory behavior toward their employees.