A Staten Island businessman terrorized by crooks into becoming their “personal ATM machine” says he’s still wracked with fear — and guilt that he didn’t go to the police sooner to stop their reign of terror.
The 66-year-old shop owner, whose ordeal was first reported in the Daily News, said he got free of the gun-toting criminals’ clutches by convincing them to take a trip to Florida with his money — and calling the cops while they were out of town.
“I regret not going to the police the first day,” the shop owner told The News. “If I said that the first day, they would’ve stopped. As soon as I said ‘Police,’ it stopped.”
The shop owner, who spoke on condition his name not be used, was targeted by brothers Gerome Jackson, 22, Jahseem Jackson, 21, and a third man, Kiernan Todzia, 21, federal prosecutors allege.
In February and March, the three men threatened to kill the shop owner, his wife, and his daughter unless he gave them access to credit cards, drove the suspects on shopping trips, rented them hotel rooms, and paid for rental cars, the feds allege.
“I always gave in,” the shop owner said. “I always thought if I saw a terrorist I’d say, ‘Oh, I’m not gonna let other people die. I’ll jump that guy. I’ll do something.’ And then this happened, and I didn’t do nothing.”
The victim believes his past kindness may have set him up as a target — Todzia, 21, who goes by the nickname “Car Keys,” is a friend of his nephew. The nephew is not charged in the case.
As a teenager, the shop owner said, Todzia grew up in a troubled home. The shop owner said he let Todzia stay in the basement of his shop when things got bad.
In 2020, Todzia introduced the victim to the Jackson brothers, said the shop owner. He agreed to rent vehicles for the siblings under his name in exchange for cash, the store keeper said — an assertion backed up by the feds in court papers.
“They didn’t have credit cards. They couldn’t rent one. They paid me $500,” the store owner said.
Two years later, they walked into his custom frame store, Manor Art and Framing in Castleton Corners, looking tougher than before, and said they had just been released from jail, the victim recounted.
They started asking about his credit card machine, suggesting he use it to run scams, the shop owner said. Jahseem Jackson suggested to the store owner that he use the machine to run scams. According to court papers, Jahseem stated “in sum and substance” to the store owner: “Do you know how much money you can make with this?”
A few days after that, court papers state, the shop owner arrived at the store and found Todzia and the Jackson brothers inside. The shop owner recounted that the three were messing with a credit card machine, trying to make a $10,000 charge without buying anything.
He refused to refund them the $10,000. Jahseem Jackson “brandished what appeared to be a machine gun” and used it to threaten his brother Gerome, say court documents. The store owner said the machine gun was bright red.
Scared, the store owner gave them three of his credit cards. After that, the Jacksons and Todzia kept coming back for more, court documents say.
The feds allege that through the entire scheme, the crew made their victim spend more than $13,000 on high-fashion clothes, hotel rentals and cars, a court document states.
“These guys took me driving around all night against my will to New Jersey. They wanted me to go to a strip club to take the credit card for cash. I had to drive around find them a hotel,” the store owner said. “They stayed in the best of the best, on my dime.”
When they made him go to a store on Canal St. in Manhattan on March 5, the shop owner said, he decided to stand up to them — even when a man in a ski mask showed up with a knife in his hand.
Then one of the crooks allegedly said they’d head to his daughter’s address instead, and the shop owner caved, calling the bank to re-active one of his declined credit cards and make the purchase.
That’s when he came up with a plan to get them out of his life.
The shop owner said he overheard the trio talking about buying guns in Florida, so he offered to pay for an Airbnb and a car, and gave them his iPhone.
When they left town, he went to the police.
Cops in Daytona Beach pulled over Gerome Jackson and locked him up. He’s since been convicted of a gun charge in Manhattan and sentenced to two years in prison.
Gerome’s brother, Jahseem, was infuriated by the arrest, the shop owner said. But after the victim mentioned he was going to the cops, he didn’t hear from him again.
The feds arrested Jahseem Jackson and Todzia on Aug. 4. Both remain held without bail. Todzia and the Jackson brothers face charges in Brooklyn Federal Court.
Even so, the shop owner is rattled.
“I’m in danger. I have to deal with that,” he said.
Still, he’s determined to see the charges through. “I will go to court and I will testify,” he said.