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Phony kidnap ‘victim’ arraigned in fraud

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"The defendant intentionally devised a scheme, an artifice to defraud a person known to the FBI, and obtained money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses," said a clerk at the U.S. District court house in Central Islip, L.I., where Irakli Janashvili, 23, was arraigned before Magistrate E. Thomas Boyle.

According to published reports, Janashvili, who is from the Republic of Georgia, allegedgly asked his cousin, Raphael Yakoby, 28, who invented his Hpnotiq liqueur in his Forest Hills apartment, to put up $20,000 in funeral expenses for his father's burial last October, then blew the money at the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut a month later.

After Yakoby refused to give his cousin any more money, he received two phone calls on Dec. 11 from an unidentified man with a heavy Italian accent demanding $50,000, then $53,000, or his cousin would "disappear," the reports said.

Yakoby contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and police arrested Janashvili in Portland, Maine on Dec. 13 after they traced a bank account set up to receive the ransom money to a bank in Maine, the reports said. Janashvili was taking classes in Maine.

The FBI did not return calls for comment.

A representative of Heaven Hills Distilleries, which makes and sells Hpnotiq, a blue concoction of vodka mixed with tropical juice and cognac, said the company no longer deals with Yakoby since he sold his product to them in January 2003 for more than $20 million.

"We have no comment on the situation," said the representative from the company's headquarters in Bardstown, Ky.

Hpnotic has been promoted by celebrities such as rapper Lil' Kim and actor George Clooney and was mentioned in the HBO hit series "Sex and the City".

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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