A federal magistrate judge has a new factor to consider as she decides whether to grant bail to a Lowell man charged in the attempted extortion of a Boston-based celebrity: Authorities allegedly found a gun in the defendant’s car.
Felix Paulino, 35, was originally charged with attempting to extort $20,000 from the unidentified celebrity under the threat that he would distribute to the gossip outlet TMZ a scandalous video of the married man courting young women at the Boston nightclub Venu in October.
Assistant US Attorney Nadine Pellegrini said Friday during a detention hearing that investigators found a gun in Paulino’s car after his arrest Tuesday morning, a disclosure that gave US Magistrate Judge Marianne B. Bowler concerns.
“That’s a danger to the community,” Bowler said. She said she would decide whether to release Paulino, who has been convicted of violent crimes before. He has no license for a firearm.
Paulino’s lawyer, Jane F. Peachy, argued, however, that Paulino only had the gun for protection from recent threats of violence in Lowell unrelated to the alleged extortion. His car had been shot at, she said.
Peachy also said that Paulino never made any threat of violence in relation to the alleged extortion, and that he never received any money. She asked that he be released to his family. Bowler took the matter under advisement.
During a brief hearing Friday, FBI Special Agent Daniel Romanzo testified that an investigation began in October after Paulino contacted the agent of a well-known Boston personality, threatening to leak the video footage.
Romanzo testified, however, that the footage only shows the celebrity “mingling with patrons in the club, shaking hands, and departing the club shortly thereafter.”
Romanzo said that a cooperating witness tried to arrange a meeting with Paulino for the footage, though he acknowledged that a meeting never occurred. Peachy pointed out that Paulino has done nothing with the footage since the discussions ended in November.
The celebrity is not being named because of victim identity protection laws. He is identified in court records as John Doe. The records stated the celebrity was the subject of “media reports in both newspapers and on television” about his “financial information” last fall.
Paulino’s family would not comment outside the courtroom.Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.