Alleged hooker, parents accused in $3M extortion plot

Robert Snell
The Detroit News
View Comments


Detroit — An alleged hooker from Westland and her parents were involved in a scheme to extort almost $3 million from a retired software mogul by threatening to tell police about a threesome involving her, her teenage cousin and the businessman, according to federal prosecutors.

A 119-count indictment unsealed in federal court this week alleges a years-long conspiracy that netted millions of dollars from software executive Paul Vagnozzi of Orchard Lake. He retired in 2005 after selling his company, Rochester Hills-based Cypress Corp., for $8.7 million.

The alleged scheme was headed by Westland resident Terry Tackett, 52, involved wife Kimberly Tackett, 53, and their daughter Jessica Tackett, 25, who prosecutors say was a stripper and a prostitute.

The pole dancer's pop allegedly threatened to beat up Vagnozzi and order his pals in the "mafia" and Jokers Motorcycle Club to hurt him if the retired software executive didn't pay millions to keep secret a threesome with two teens, prosecutors allege.

The alleged threats worked. From 2008-12, prosecutors say Vagnozzi gave Terry Tackett more than $2.6 million in cash and checks, according to the indictment. The money allegedly bankrolled the father's lavish lifestyle, including a home in Romulus, six Harley-Davidson motorcycles, muscle cars, Jet Skis and expensive gifts for his stripper girlfriends.

Terry Tackett, his wife and daughter allegedly also conspired to hide the alleged scheme from investigators and a grand jury. Prosecutors say Kimberly Tackett and her daughter falsely accused the software mogul of raping Jessica Tackett.

Prosecutors say Terry Tackett had people lie to IRS agents about ownership of vehicles seized during raids and allegedly threatened to lynch one witness if she talked to investigators.

"It's just the IRS — ain't no big deal," Terry Tackett allegedly told one witness, "just don't turn on me."

Vagnozzi, whose father is the late Farmington Hills mayor and state Rep. Aldo Vagnozzi, was somber after The Detroit News told him about the indictment.

"I've moved on," Vagnozzi, 61, told The News. "I don't really want to say anything."

His lawyer, Raymond Cassar, thanked the U.S. Attorney's Office and investigators for bringing the "group to justice."

"My client is a good man who was the victim of a lengthy extortion plot by a group of individuals that conspired to take as much money from him as they possibly could over a lengthy period of time," Cassar wrote in an email Tuesday.

Vagnozzi is not named in the indictment because the government considers him a victim. The indictment, however, mentions that Jessica Tackett and her mother filed a phony rape complaint against the businessman victimized in the alleged extortion scheme. West Bloomfield Township police told The News that the phony rape complaint was filed against Vagnozzi.

Jessica Tackett, who is free on $10,000 unsecured bond, and her mother face up to five years in federal prison and $250,000 in fines if convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Terry Tackett faces 119 charges and a possible 20-year prison sentence if convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice, tax evasion, money laundering and banking crimes.

The heavily tattooed Terry Tackett — a giant spiderweb creation covering his right elbow — sat in federal court Tuesday between an alleged drug dealer and an accused identity thief while waiting to be arraigned in the alleged extortion scheme.

He wore handcuffs and leg shackles and said little during the arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mona Majzoub as a not guilty plea was entered on Tackett's behalf.

He is due back in federal court at 1 p.m. Wednesday, when Majzoub is expected to consider releasing him on bond.

His lawyer, Larry Shulman, declined comment. Lawyers for Jessica Tackett and her mother could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

According to federal court records, the alleged extortion scheme unraveled after the IRS started an investigation four years ago.

In January 2011, IRS agents launched a criminal investigation of Vagnozzi after noticing the software mogul and Terry Tackett were withdrawing large amounts of cash from banks. Most of Tackett's withdrawals were just under the $10,000 threshold for banks to file reports with the federal government.

The focus of the IRS investigation shifted to the Tackett family after Vagnozzi told investigators he was being extorted following a chance encounter at an area strip club.

In 2008, Jessica Tackett worked as a topless dancer and used the money to support her family, prosecutors alleged. During a shift, she met Vagnozzi and the two began a sexual relationship — sometimes for money, according to prosecutors.

At one point, Vagnozzi was invited to the Tackett family home in Westland. During dinner, the alleged hooker's father, Terry Tackett, asked for a loan and Vagnozzi agreed.

In late summer 2008, the businessman paid to have a threesome with Jessica Tackett and her cousin, federal prosecutors alleged.

Jessica Tackett's father found out about the threesome in October 2008, according to court records.

Terry Tackett confronted the businessman. The unnamed cousin was a minor, he told Vagnozzi, and he threatened to tell the police unless the retired software executive paid hush money, prosecutors alleged.

At the time of the alleged threesome, prosecutors believe one girl was 17 and one was 18, according to a court filing.

After being threatened, Vagnozzi paid Terry Tackett $30,000. Then, he paid more money.

In December 2008, the businessman asked Terry Tackett and his family to promise in writing that they would not report him to police and asked them to stop demanding money.

He received four letters purportedly from Terry Tackett, his wife, daughter and the cousin threatening to report him to police unless he gave Jessica Tackett $30,000.

The family then drafted two contracts promising to stop demanding more money and agreeing not to sue the businessman or tell police about the threesome.

But the alleged extortion continued until February 2012, according to court records.

"Terry Tackett threatened ... he would go to the police and report said alleged crime, cause physical harm to (the businessman), or have alleged associates of his in the 'mafia' or 'Jokers Motorcycle Club' cause physical harm ...," Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Straus wrote in the indictment.

During one 18-month period, Vagnozzi gave Terry Tackett $1.15 million in checks, according to federal court records.

IRS agents got copies of cashier's checks, which listed reasons why Vagnozzi was "loaning" money to Terry Tackett. The cover stories included "tendon surgery," "chemotherapy," a "biopsy," "lung surgery" and a new Cadillac transmission.

Terry Tackett allegedly gave different explanations, prosecutors said. He told a bank employee he was using the cash to buy a bar in Arizona and pay for his wife's breast cancer treatments, according to court records.

The IRS has executed several search warrants during the investigation and seized valuable assets, including more than $31,000. In February 2012, IRS agents seized a 2010 Dodge Challenger, a 2010 Dodge Ram pickup, Jet Skis, a 1976 Chevrolet Corvette and a 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle.

Terry Tackett bought the Chevelle in November 2010 from one of his mechanic's clients, prosecutors said. It was a memorable transaction.

"Tackett pulled out $10,000 ... from his pocket," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Grey wrote in a court filing, "(mostly $100 bills)."

View Comments