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Federal Extortion

Extortion involves getting something of value through threat or coercion. A federal extortion charge is a serious criminal offense, most likely a felony, and a federal conviction can result in a federal prison sentence and permanent criminal record. If you are facing a criminal investigation for extortion under federal or state laws, talk to a criminal defense attorney with experience handling extortion cases like yours.

What Is Criminal Extortion?

Under federal law, you can face a criminal charge of extortion if you obtain money, property, or something else of value from another by using an actual threat of force, creating a fear of force, or by acting “under color of official right.” Public officials and private individuals can both be charged with extortion.

“Under the color of official right,” means that a public or government authority took advantage of the power that comes with their public position to get the property that they had no “official right” to possess in the first place. This language applies to public, or government, officials charged with this offense.

Extortion can be a complicated charge to understand, especially since there are so many different types of extortion. To help better understand this charge, you can talk to a white-collar criminal defense attorney to help you understand the charges and potential penalties.

What Does the Government Need To Prove for Extortion?

The prosecutor does not have to prove that your act or threat directly caused the victim’s fear, just that the circumstances made it reasonable for the victim to feel afraid. Additionally, even if you were not the main person who threatened someone, you can still be charged under federal law, if you share in any part and “possesses, conceal, or dispose” of any money or other property that the main actor illegally obtained.

You can be charged with a federal crime of extortion if you used interstate commerce, mail, or digital communication to extort someone, you are an officer or employee of the government, or if the person you extorted is identified as a federal employee or public official.

Types of Federal Extortion Charges

Under federal statute, you can be charged with 10 different extortion crimes. The following crimes include:

  • Threats against the president and successors to the presidency
  • Extortion by officers or employees of the United States
  • Federal blackmail
  • Kickbacks from public works employees
  • Interstate communications
  • Mailing threatening communications
  • Mailing threatening communications from a foreign company
  • Threat and extortion against foreign officials, official guests, or internationally protected people
  • Threats against former presidents and certain other people
  • Receiving the proceeds of extortion

Due to our digital age, email and text threats and cyber extortion are a much more common type of extortion. Cyber extortion can involve computer hackers threatening public companies, like health care companies, to release data publicly if the company doesn’t pay a ransom.

The FBI is the law enforcement agency that investigates federal extortion cases. The federal government also created the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). This federal agency provides information on cybersecurity best practices to help individuals and organizations be aware of measures they can take to guard against cybersecurity risks.

What Are Defenses to Extortion?

If you are facing federal extortion charges, you can get help from a federal criminal defense lawyer with experience in federal white-collar crime. A criminal lawyer may be able to look at your case and find your best legal defenses. Common defenses to extortion include:

  • You didn’t have the required intent to commit extortion
  • You were under duress
  • You owned the property in question

What Are the Penalties for Federal Extortion?

Federal extortion is a complicated charge to understand, and this charge comes with harsh penalties. As soon as you learn you are under investigation, make sure you look for an experienced federal, white-collar criminal defense attorney. Generally, the penalty you face depends on what type of extortion you are facing.

For example, if you are a federal employee, you can face a fine or up to three years in prison, or both. If you are accused of demanding less than $1,000, you could still face up to a year in federal prison or a fine. A lawyer can help you understand the potential punishments you could be facing for a conviction or a guilty plea. Do not face a federal criminal extortion charge alone.

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