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Indictment alleges extortion by phony Homeland Security official

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Prosecutors are moving forward with the case against a Stone Mountain man who allegedly held himself out as a Homeland Security official as part of a scheme to extort a laborer of his earnings.

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

A Gwinnett grand jury indicted Thomas this week on counts of theft by extortion, impersonating an officer and possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.

The carpet installer 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 the worker and his family if he didn't cough up $200.

As police were speaking with the worker, 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 (the worker)," the officer noted in a police report.

Thomas reportedly directed the worker to withdraw $200 and place it under a tree at a Jimmy Carter Boulevard gas station where he'd made an earlier purchase.

Police hid and kept eyes on the money until Thomas emerged from a treeline and snatched it. When approached by the officers, Thomas admitted contacting the worker and arranging the drop, and then nervously told several tall tales about his role with law enforcement, the report states.

Thomas was transported to Gwinnett police headquarters for further interviews and subsequently arrested.

At the time, police gave no indication that Thomas was suspected in similar crimes, or that his alleged modus operandi is a trend affecting immigrant groups.

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

Thomas was released from the Gwinnett County Jail two months after his arrest on $15,300 bond.