WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – A Queens man has been arrested after prosecutors said he tied up members of a Bedford Hills family, burned down their barn and then demanded $3 million from them back in May.
Bartek Zajkowski has been charged with attempted robbery, attempted extortion and mailing threatening communications. He appeared in White Plains federal court on Thursday and was ordered held without bail.
On May 5, Zajkowski, who once worked for a contractor at the family’s home, walked up to the house dressed in black while wearing a mask and armed with a BB gun, police said.
EXTRA: Read The Full Complaint
He encountered the homeowner outside by the garage, ordered him to the ground and tied up his hands and feet, prosecutors said.
Before covering the victim’s mouth with duct tape and stealing his wallet, Zajkowski demanded to know what other valuables were inside the house, prosecutors said.
The victim told him there were expensive paintings as well as gold and silver bullion, according to the criminal complaint.
Prosecutors said Zajkowski went inside where and found the man’s wife in a bedroom and told her he was robbing the house. Zajkowski shot the woman in her stomach with the BB gun as the two struggled and then tied her up, prosecutors said.
As Zajkowski went to look for the paintings, the woman was able to get free and triggered the house alarm. Zajkowski took off with nothing but the man’s wallet, prosecutors said.
Two days later, a suspicious fire broke out in a barn on their property and killed several chickens, police said.
Then on May 14 and May 17, the family received two letters demanding the victims pay Zajkowski $3 million — $ 1 million for each of their three children — to ensure their family’s safety, prosecutors said.
The letter contained account and routing numbers for a bank in the Netherlands that was later linked the partner of Zajkowski’s mother, authorities said.
In the letters, which had numerous spelling and punctuation mistakes, prosecutors said Zajkowski talked about struggling with the wife, took responsibility for the barn fire and threatened to harm the couple’s children, among other things.
“I know – where you live…what you do…how you and entire family of your looks like. everything I need to know,” the first letter said, according to the complaint.
“If you think the Police can protect you then you are not that smart I thought. They will protect you like they did 24h later with your property. It take them 30 minuts to get there and deal with barn. Made me wait 30 minutes to see them in action and still didn’t find me,” the letter said.
Prosecutors said enclosed in the letter were items taken from the man’s wallet, including a picture of one of the children and his driver’s license.
Three days later, the second letter arrived.
“I thought you are smarter and you will keep this latter and agreement to yourself, but you want to play it hard so be it. I been watching you all the time so don’t think I don’t know what’s going on,” the second letter said.
“One can only imagine the utter terror felt by the victims of this alleged home invasion, robbery and extortion scheme,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
Zajkowski was arrested in June for an unrelated attempted home invasion last year in Ridgefield, Conn., prosecutors said. In both cases, authorities said a BB gun, duct tape and plastic ties were used.
“Thanks to the cooperative efforts of law enforcement at every level, Bartek Zajkowski will be held to account for allegedly threatening the security of this couple and their children, destroying their property and violating the sanctity of their home,” said Bharara.
Authorities recovered a box of BB pellets, duct tape, a cellphone and two laptops in Zajkowski’s apartment that had at least six maps of the areas surrounding the Bedford Hills home.
According to the complaint, when asked by authorities if he would commit the alleged crimes again if given a second chance, Zajkowski said “he would think about it again first before doing it.”
“The allegations in the complaint paint a grim and terrifying picture of violence and explicit threats to harm the victims’ children,” said FBI Acting Assistant Director-in-Charge Mary Galligan in a statement. “In his evident greed, it is alleged that the defendant tormented his victims physically and emotionally. No civil society can tolerate this kind of assault on safety and security in one’s own home.”
Zajkowski is due back in court in October.