Hempstead Village Trustee Perry Pettus and a second man were arrested Tuesday for allegedly conspiring to threaten restaurant owners to pay him $25,000 in bribes this year or be hit with fines, Nassau County prosecutors said.
Pettus, 62, and William Mendez, 47, pleaded not guilty to charges of bribe receiving, grand larceny, conspiracy and official misconduct. Judge Patricia Harrington released Pettus without bail and set bail for Mendez at $10,000.
“Pettus, a former Hempstead Deputy Mayor, threatened Hispanic-owned local businesses with summons, fines, and operating restrictions that would could drive them out of business – unless they paid him tens of thousands in bribes, though his associate and intermediary, William Mendez,” said Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, who called the allegations “truly despicable.”
Prosecutors said Pettus, who is also the owner of Hubs Auto Care, solicited bribes from local restauranteurs by threatening to have summonses issued that would jeopardize the restaurants’ business, cabaret and liquor licenses, thereby forcing the restaurants out of business.
He and Mendez, a local restaurant and bar owner in the village, targeted Hispanic-owned businesses as part of their extortion scheme, authorities said. Mendez, who speaks Spanish, allegedly helped Pettus by meeting with victims and making the demands, according to investigators.
In turn, Pettus fast-tracked permits for Mendez, used village employees to increase the occupancy of one his restaurants, and had village employees assist Mendez with architectural plans for a new business, authorities said. Pettus also repeatedly disclosed information from a confidential police investigation to Mendez, prosecutors said.
Pettus and Mendez allegedly discussed payments in coded language and specifically used the word “cookies” to refer to money, according to investigators.
Pettus ceased to be deputy mayor of the Village of Hempstead on April 2, but remains a trustee. The duo is due back in court Sept. 5. They face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the top charge.
The investigation is continuing. Prosecutors ask anyone with information on the case to contact the Public Corruption Bureau at 516-571-2100.