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Federal Extortion

Although the crime of extortion is a felony in all fifty states it can be tried as a federal crime if it is implemented by any wireless communication including emails and texts, other computer communication as well as by telephone or regular mail, or if it illegally affects interstate commerce by any other means.

To commit a crime that classifies one of interstate commerce the offense must deal with trade, traffic, or transportation of cash and/or property which begins in one state and concludes in another or an area outside of the United States, or crosses state lines during the process of the crime's commission.    

Federal extortion laws also apply to threats to federal employees and threats that are made by federal employees.

The definition of extortion is obtaining money or property by threat or intimidation even though it may not be represented by a clear or imminent physical danger to the victim. It is basically acquiring money or property by threat of physical violence or embarrassment to the victim, a friend or family member of the victim; a threat of damage to the victim's property or threatening to damage a person's reputation through various methods.  

Other forms of extortion include blackmail and what's known as a "protection racket". In the latter, an example of this is when a person collects money from a businessperson, telling them that the money is used to protect their business from vandalism or burglary during hours it is closed while subtlety suggesting that the crime will be perpetrated by the collector of the money if the businessperson doesn't make the payments requested. Instilling fear is the main objective of this type of extortion. In the case of blackmail, the alleged guilty party would have something that the victim wouldn't want made public and the target makes payments to stop the intimidator from doing so.     

Using social media, the newest popular form of Internet communication; with Websites such as Facebook, Twitter and many others, a new avenue for potential extortionists has been created. Posting pictures and writings about others that they wouldn't want accessible in the public domain has become a new tool for an extortionist to utilize, demanding money from those who might be hurt by these postings. Additionally, there are many sites known as "revenge porn" sites that allow the uploading and posting of pornographic pictures with descriptions, as well as videos with the explicit purpose of embarrassing an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend; posted without their consent. Although the actual posting of this content is not illegal at this time, threatening to post compromising photos or videos unless a monetary amount changes hands beforehand is a clear example of extortion.

Some of these Websites use a virtually legitimate type of extortion by charging a fee for taking these photos, videos and remarks down. Regulation of these sites due to First Amendment issues have been tricky, to say the least but as of the writing of this page it is a totally unregulated industry.

Legislators have ramped up efforts to crack down on this issue in recent months. To read an article about lawmakers leading the charge to try to make the distribution of revenge porn in any form a federal crime, click here.

Because a charge of extortion is classified as a theft, larceny or robbery which doesn't pose an imminent physical endangerment to the victim and because in many cases it can be a "he said/she said" case, there are many defenses available to combat the charge in court.

The anticipated victim must believe that the threat is reasonably real and the threat that the intimidation against them must be true. Other defenses include insufficient evidence and the absence of threat, force, or fear for inducing payment among others. And of course the prosecution is always tasked with proving their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

In Florida, extortion is a second degree felony that can result with a sentence of up to a $10,000 fine and a prison term of up to fifteen years or both, as well as restitution.  The state may also ask for harsher penalties in cases of habitual felony offenders.

Federal extortion penalties can result with steep fines, restitution and lengthy prison sentences depending on the type of extortion. The Federal Extortion Sentencing Guidelines are based on a point system. To read more about this topic on a federal level visit the following page on the website: by clicking the preceding link.

With close to forty years in the legal profession working as a former Assistant State Attorney for Broward County, Florida, and an Assistant United States Attorney prosecuting cases for the government and currently practicing as a criminal defense attorney in South Florida for more than the past fifteen years, my law office based in Fort Lauderdale specializes in federal criminal defense as well as charges brought forward by the State of Florida and is the proper choice to fight all allegations of crimes when accused by the prosecution.

To view all of my qualifications and understand what should be done next if you or someone you care about is involved in a situation similar to the details of these types of allegations or are facing any other criminal charges, click here.

*Time tested criminal extortion attorney practicing in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and the Palm Beaches as well as all the neighboring counties in the surrounding areas of South Florida.