A former employee of the Mrs. Ihrie's potato chip company has been arrested and charged with attempting to extort nearly $1,800 from the company by telling officials that several of their employees would be murdered if the firm didn't come up with the money.
Paul William Chase, 36, of the 3600 block of W. Mulberry St., was charged with felony extortion and held overnight at the Southwestern police station pending a bail hearing today in District Court. City police arrested him at his home yesterday afternoon.
Chase recently was fired from the firm for theft of money received after making deliveries. He received probation before judgment and was ordered to make $1,000 restitution to the company.
City homicide detective Earl Kratsch said a man called the firm Wednesday identifying himself as a gunrunner who sold guns to a second subject who was going to "hit" company employees.
The caller said that for $1,800 he would turn over the hit man's name and the names of company employees targeted for death.
Kratsch said firm executives took the threat seriously. The FBI was called in to aid in the investigation.
"Nobody wanted another incident like the one earlier at Fox Chevrolet in Woodlawn," said Kratsch, referring to the fatal shooting there Oct. 12 of two service employees by a man who had been fired. The gunman then took his own life.
Kratsch said the FBI placed an electronic device on the company's phone lines and later calls by the man were recorded. The calls were played back and the voice was recognized as that of a former employee, Kratsch said.
Kratsch said Steven Seymour, general manager of Mrs. Ihrie's, in the first block of N. Smallwood St., agreed to the caller's demand for money and set up a meeting with him yesterday on the parking lot of Security Square Mall in Woodlawn.
At noon, several undercover officers in unmarked vehicles spotted the suspect on the lot, but the man never met a police officer posing as a company official at a prearranged spot.
"He must have gotten cold feet," said Kratsch.
Kratsch said the suspect drove off. The license number of the car was taken down by the police.
After further investigation, police went to Chase's home at 4 p.m. and arrested him for attempted extortion.
Kratsch said Chase was unemployed. Police were told he needed money to pay his bills.
Kratsch said the man admitted that the scenario about a hit man and a gunrunner was a hoax.