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What Is Extortion? + Laws, Charges & Statute of Limitations

June 26, 2020 Federal Criminal Attorneys
What Is Extortion? + Laws, Charges & Statute of Limitations

What Is Extortion? + Laws, Charges & Statute of Limitations

Extortion is simply defined as threats used to cause victims to surrender, money, valuables, favors or influence. Examples include mobsters demanding protection money or extorting a juror in a criminal’s trial to hold out for a “not guilty” verdict. Subtle types of extortion are common, but the crime violates the law in every state. Federal extortion cases require more elements to qualify for prosecution.

Federal extortion cases require the use of interstate communications to make a threat in exchange for money or performing a service or benefit.
Direct threats to federal officials to receive a benefit can also be prosecuted under federal law.

Generally, the Hobbs Act, Travel Act and RICO Act define federal cases of extortion. The Hobbs Act prohibits extortion that affects foreign or interstate commerce. [1] The federal extortion law has broadened to include cyber extortion, extortion across state lines and threats to federal officials for favors or services.

The Travel Act, Section 18 USC 1952, has a long reach for racketeering violations. The law prohibits travel to other states and jurisdictions to engage, promote or discuss racketeering enterprises. Applicable to mail and internet communications, the Travel Act is one of the best tools for fighting organized crime.

Federal extortion charges can also stem from the RICO Act, which is when someone engages in racketeering activities – such as kidnapping, gambling, murder, drug sales, arson, bribery and other crimes across state or foreign borders. Cyber extortion includes threats of shutting down a website or posting confidential information about the company or its customers. Threats made by phone, internet or mail can also be federal extortion crimes. The typical racketeering practices of demanding protection money can be prosecuted as federal cases under the Hobbs or RICO act.

Charges Related to Extortion

Most federal extortion cases are based on the Hobbs Act, and defendants can receive hefty fines and prison sentences up to 20 years. Grand jury indictments are essential for federal felony cases, and the Justice Manual covers questions that grand juries must be able to answer affirmatively to indict under the Hobbs Act: [2]

  1. Did the defendant issue threats or attempted threats to influence a victim to give up property or property rights?
  2. Did the defendant use the victim’s fear of physical injury or economic hardship to persuade him or her to give up property?
  3. Did the defendant’s actions have real or potential consequences that might delay or damage interstate or foreign commerce?
  4. Were the defendant’s actions and threats wrongful?

Blackmail or extortion under 18 U.S.C. § 873 is a federal offense that carries up to one year one year in federal prison, a fine, or both prison time and a fine. Judges have lots of latitude under sentencing guidelines. First-time offenders might get off without prison time by performing community service or completing a drug treatment course. [3]

More complex cases based on interstate racketeering or influencing federal officials can carry fines and prison sentences up to the maximum of 20 years.

Statute of Limitations for Federal Extortion Cases

The statute of limitations for federal extortion cases is governed by Statute 18 USC 3282. The code requires that an indictment must be underway within 60 months of the alleged extortion event. If the indictment is not in process within that time period, it can’t be pursued further.

Civil Suits

Victims can inform local authorities and explain the circumstances of the extortion, and they will usually make the decision whether the case is investigated by federal officers or local police. State laws and penalties match up closely with federal sentencing guidelines. Regardless of which branch handles the case, victims can also seek redress by filing a civil lawsuit.

In RICO-related extortion cases tried in federal courts, victims can receive triple damages and court costs for extortion and other racketeering offences. The case must involve a violation of interstate commerce to qualify for a tripled award.

References:

[1] https://www.justice.gov/archives/jm/criminal-resource-manual-2402-hobbs-act-generally

[2] https://grandjurytarget.com/2019/08/21/the-reach-of-federal-blackmail-and-extortion-statutes-part-ii/

[3] https://www.thefederalcriminalattorneys.com/federal-blackmail-and-extortion/#:~:text=%C2%A7%20873%20Blackmail%20or%20Extortion,both%20prion%20and%20a%20fine.

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