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LAWRENCE - Police say a Haverhill woman coerced the owners of a Lawrence Dairy Queen into paying $6,000 in extortion money, claiming they exploited her 15-year-old daughter and broke the law by having her wash uniforms.
"Theresa Payne was yelling that her daughter works for us to serve ice cream and not do peoples' laundry," Wayne Stanuchenski told police detectives.
"She said that was slavery and a violation of her civil rights," said Stanuchenski, 52, of North Andover. He accused Payne — who is black — of threatening to notify the NAACP, the state Board of Health and the news media if he and his wife Cheryl didn't pay the demand money.
Theresa Payne, 41, of 9 Howard St., Haverhill, was charged with three counts of extortion by threat of injury.
Payne pleaded innocent at her arraignment yesterday in Lawrence District Court. She declined to comment on her arrest.
But Lawrence attorney Philip Doherty said last night that his client "vehemently denies the allegations."
"There's absolutely no extortion whatsoever. There was a written settlement agreement that was offered by the employer and the true facts of the case will be brought out," Doherty said.
"I do think she (Payne's daughter) was exploited. A 15-year old black young lady who was asked to wash the personal laundry of her employer, which had nothing to do with her job descriptions or obligations," Doherty said.
But Lawrence Police Chief John Romero said witness testimony and evidence obtained by detectives show Payne "perpetrated a ruse on these poor people and basically scammed them into paying her money."
"These people run a seasonal business and this woman threatened to shut it down, by bringing in different agencies and different associations that could make trouble for them as well. She used all these positions of authority and strength in an attempt to intimidate them," Romero said.
The Stanuchenskis told police that Payne claimed to have a high ranking position with the state Department of Social Services and would use it to have their two special needs children removed from their home.
"I was petrified and afraid for my children and did not know what to do," Cheryl Stanuchenski told detectives, explaining why she wrote out four different checks on three different trips to their South Union Street business last month.
"She kept demanding more money. I gave her more money because I was afraid for my children," she said.
On the last trip, Cheryl said she was pressured into signing a paper that Payne's lawyer had prepared. At that point, she asked to have time to review the document and talk to a lawyer.
"She said if I called a lawyer that she was head leader of the NAACP for this area and she would call them and her group would be at the store. She threatened to call The Eagle-Tribune and have it put on the front page," Cheryl Stanuchenski told police, adding that she signed it out of sheer fear of losing her children.
Romero said those fears were unfounded.
Romero said detectives contacted the DSS and were told they have no record of Payne ever working for the agency.
Payne is not listed among the top officers on the web site for the Merrimack Valley Branch NAACP. The only area officers are William Torrence of Haverhill, who serves as first vice president, and Lawrence's Lisa Murphy, who is secretary of the local group.
Payne's daughter Miriah began working for the Dairy Queen in May. On Sept. 18, just two hours after she was asked to wash work uniforms, towels and other items at laundry, her mother showed up at the store after learning about the laundry detail, according to police reports.
Wayne Stanuchenski told police he paid the girl $100 in cash for 12 hours after Payne demanded her daughter be paid immediately.
But the next day, Payne began a series of new demands that continued until the Stanuchenskis finally went to police on Sept. 26.
"Their store has been closed for the prior four days because they are terrified of retaliation from the Payne family," said Detective Paul MacMillan who worked on the investigation with Detective Aguiler.
"Cheryl Stanuchenski also informed me that she had to go to the Holy Family Hospital on Sept. 22 and be treated for anxiety because of this incident," MacMillan said.

8,417 Posts
EXTORTION! Are you kidding me?? Poor Ms. Payne, give the lady a break...
I thought being a race baiting, shakedown artist was part of the new world order??
As OCKS alluded to, it has afforded Jesse Jerkson and Al Not-Too-Sharpton a very fine living...
She's just trying to get her piece of the Distorted American Dream like any other extortionist..

I had to clean toilets, mop floors, and paint rocks when I was in the Army. Was I enslaved and didn't even know it? :rolleyes:
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