By Karen Zautyk
A 57-year-old Belleville man has pleaded guilty to extortion for stealing used-clothing donation bins belonging to a charity organization and then demanding money for their return, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
The defendant, Michael Arpaio, faces 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The New York-based nonprofit, which was not publicly identified, had placed the collection bins throughout northern New Jersey, including Belleville, Bloomfield and Kearny. Donated clothing was sold and the net proceeds given to charity.
According to the charge against him, in July 2010, Arpaio, stole –or directed another person to steal – one of the bins that had been located outside a retail shop in Belleville. He then contacted the nonprofit, seeking money in exchange for the container’s return and demanding payment for permitting its placement on the property.
The indictment against him said Arpaio claimed that his permission was needed for any bins to be placed in “his territory,” northern N.J. In fact, he neither owned nor had any connection to the sites where the containers were situated, authorities stated.
Court records state Arpaio admitted that, after the company refused to pay up, he made extortionate threats, including: “I can tell you, your boxes are gonna be gone. …within 10 weeks, I’m gonna have at least 10 of your . . . boxes. ….Every, every box you want back, you’re gonna pay me a thousand dollars . . . cash to get it back.”
There was also at least one mob reference: “My uncle’s connected. . . . My uncle used to work for a guy . . . (who was a) captain in the Genovese crime family but he worked directly for John Gotti. Now you know who John Gotti is, right?”
Arpaio entered his plea Oct. 11 in Newark Federal Court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz.
Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 17.
Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Ward, for the investigation leading to the guilty plea.