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Cops: Man posed as Homeland Security agent

Alleged ruse was attempt to extort laborers

— A crafty but crooked Stone Mountain man is behind bars after allegedly holding himself out as a Homeland Security official as part of a scheme to extort laborers of their earnings.

Gwinnett police conducted a sting Thursday behind an auto parts store in Norcross and arrested James Willie Thomas, 44, after a carpet installer notified police of his alleged ruse.

The carpet installer, Norcross resident Jorge Guzman, told police Thomas must have noted a phone number advertised on the side of his work truck and began aggressively calling him. Thomas purported himself as a Homeland Security official and threatened to deport Guzman and his family if he didn't cough up $200.

As police were speaking with Guzman, Thomas reportedly called back, and an officer listened in via an earpiece.

"The male stated that he was an agent with Homeland Security and that he had his partner following (Guzman)," the officer noted in a police report. "The male was verbally aggressive and demanding throughout the conversation."

The caller directed Guzman to withdraw the $200 and call him once he returned to the Jimmy Carter Boulevard gas station where he'd made an earlier purchase. He later told Guzman to place the money behind a tree at an auto parts store next door, the report states.

The officer called in back-up, and they lay in wait and kept eyes on the money until Thomas emerged from a treeline and snatched it, the report states.

When approached by the officers, Thomas admitted contacting Guzman and arranging the drop, and then nervously told several tall tales about his role with law enforcement, the report states.

"Thomas reported that this arrangement is (part) of his undercover assignment that he is doing with the (FBI)," the officer wrote. Later, Thomas claimed "this assignment was for Homeland Security and a task force with Bartow County Sheriff's Office," the report states.

Thomas was transported to Gwinnett police headquarters for further interviews and subsequently arrested. Guzman's immigration status was not questioned.

Charged with two counts of theft by extortion, impersonating an officer, and possessing a small amount of marijuana, Thomas remains at the Gwinnett County Jail without bond. Police gave no indication that Thomas is suspected in similar crimes, or that his alleged modus operandi is a trend affecting immigrant groups.

The arrest was not Thomas' first run-in with law enforcement.

Georgia Department of Corrections records show he's served five prison sentences since 1985, ranging from one to four years, mostly on theft and burglary convictions.