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Hempstead Trustee Accused Of Shaking Down Village Business Owners

MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A Hempstead Village trustee and his alleged accomplice were facing corruption charges. They're accused of shaking down business owners for protection money and working with village officials and police to punish those who didn't pay up.

He's served as a respected deputy mayor and is currently village trustee, but Perry Pettus stands charged in a scandalous extortion and bribery scheme.

The charges, according to Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, sound like something out of a movie. Her office says Pettus collected more than $25,000 using a middle man, William Mendez, to shake down vulnerable Hispanic business owners. The pair threatened to drive them out of business if they didn't pay protection money.

"They spoke in coded language, referring to cash as cookies," Singas said. Anger and frustration overtook the village as word of the arrests spread. Some residents even said their parents were victims.

"Threatened them, he will close down their restaurant or put them in danger," one boy said.

Mendez owns El Pacifico and other local bars and restaurants, while Pettus owns and runs a car repair shop not far from Village Hall. Workers said they would not be threatened.

"Nobody can shake me down for money I don't have," one owner said.

Investigators say they intercepted phone calls and recorded Pettus ordering village employees and members of the police department to specifically target and ticket certain Hispanic-owned businesses.

Pettus left court on Tuesday holding his granddaughter after a judge released him on his own recognizance. The DA's office says the investigation is ongoing, and urges all potential victims and witnesses to come forward.

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