SHEEPSHEAD BAY — A trio of wannabe wise guys tried to shake down a former pizza store owner for almost $200,000 — but their bumbling plot, complete with a fake gun, ended up shooting them in the feet.
An actor who has appeared on the popular Fox television series “Empire” was among three people who pleaded guilty Tuesday to trying to shake down the businessman, prosecutors said. The victim was not identified.
The plot involved actor Leroy Wilson, 47, who’s had small roles in hit TV shows like “Empire” and films like “Creed.”
Wilson was roped into the scheme by Douglas Singer, 54, who had bought the Sheepshead Bay pizzeria from the shakedown victim in early 2018 for $60,000 and a monthly rent of $5,200. The victim continued to be his landlord, and owned and lived in the building housing the pizzeria.
Singer also recruited Marianne Wood, 61, who posed as his business partner. Meanwhile, the actor had been hired to play the part of the “muscle.”
The trio then met with the landlord at the restaurant back in November.
Prosecutors said Wood told the victim he owed them $198,000, money that would have covered the cost of buying the business, the security deposit and the renovations. Wood demanded payment right away — and threatened him with a photo of the victim’s wife and kids, saying it would be in his best interest to pay up, according to officials.
During that confrontation, Wilson — playing the role of the bodyguard — leaned toward the victim and revealed a pistol holstered on his hip. The firearm was later determined to be a theatrical prop.
After the meeting , the victim reported the threats to law enforcement, according to prosecutors, leading to their arrests and plea deals on Tuesday.
“A group of people doing their best to act like a group of mobsters, shaking down a pizzeria owner, will now face a steep price for what they described as ‘kinda fun,'” according to a joint statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and the FBI’s New York Field Office.
Before the fateful meeting, messages between the failed extortionists showed how they hatched the wacky plot.
According to court documents, Singer initially wrote to Wilson on Facebook Messenger: “I was wondering if you might be interested in a kind of acting gig. I need a couple of guys to escort my associate [Wood] while she delivers a demand to my landlord… You will simply have to stand in the background and appear to be muscle.”
Singer even made wardrobe suggestions for the threatening meeting. “Is it possible for you to wear a dark suit but no tie? Maybe a white shirt,” Singer wrote the actor. “And dark sunglasses?”
Singer and Wood exchanged excited messages ahead of the meeting, with Singer writing: “We are confirmed for 11:30 a.m. at the pizzeria with [the victim],” and “Let the games begin!” Wood replied eagerly, “Yay,” and “Oh yeah baby!!”
FBI special agents executed a search warrant at Wilson’s home on Dec. 14, and found a black theatrical prop pistol and the leather jacket the actor was seen wearing on surveillance video during the pizzeria meeting.
They each face 20 years behind bars.