updated 8/2/2007 6:39:50 PM ET 2007-08-02T22:39:50

A sheriff’s deputy accused of threatening Mexican motorists with detention if they didn’t pay him off has pleaded not guilty to extortion.

Deputy Henry James Jr., 45, was arrested after he stopped two FBI agents late last month. The agents were posing as Mexican motorists after several drivers claimed they had been stopped by law enforcement and ordered to pay.

The agents, pulled over by James for disregarding a stop sign, recorded the deputy telling them that because they were Mexican, they had to pay him $150 or be detained until a judge could see them, according to a criminal complaint.

James pleaded not guilty Wednesday to extortion in federal court in Laredo.

Sheriff Victor Villarreal said in a statement that the department documented cases in which James had stopped vehicles but didn’t call dispatchers. Four motorists had complained that James stopped them and asked for $120 to $300. They told authorities they paid him.

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