New York Penal Code §155.40 et. Seq.
- What is extortion?:
It is the practice of threatening someone to get something in return, especially money. Essentially, it’s the same as blackmail. The Hobbs Act elevates these kinds of actions to the level of a violation of Federal law. In New York, the crime of extortion is lumped in with larceny, and is typically associated with white collar criminals.
The kinds of threats that can be attributed to extortion are usually the treat to injure a person, damage property, accuse someone (or a family member) of a crime, or to expose a secret or disgrace a person’s reputation in some way. In New York, there are a few more kinds of threats that can rise to the level of larceny by extortion: causing a strike, boycott or other collective labor group action; testifying about another person’s legal claim (or refusing the testify; using or abusing the position as a public servant, and the catch-all of behaving in any manner that causes someone to act in a way to benefit the actor and harm the victim’s life, business, reputation or personal relationship.
Victims of extortion are more nuanced than victims of other crimes, such as robbery. Extortion causes victims to consent to the taking of property because of the threat. Robbery means the property is taken against the victim’s will (or even knowledge until it’s too late). Sometimes, because the victims eventually consent, victims of extortion either do not realize they are being extorted, or are afraid of reporting the event to law enforcement for fear they will be accused of participating in the crime. In the event the perpetrator is threatening to publish embarrassing information about the victim, then they are even less likely to report it.
These fears are exactly why the government treats extortion as a serious crime. It exploits the fears of the victims to such an extent that they can be repeatedly victimized, with little threat of being reported or prosecuted. Therefore, victims must take comfort in knowing that the crime of extortion requires their consent – however, giving it does not legitimize the actions of the perpetrator. A good attorney can help victims of extortion determine their options and actions, and will usually be able to do so with discretion, so that the embarrassing or compromising information does not get disseminated.
What happens if you feel the government is exerting its power to extort you? A victim experiences what’s called “extortion under color of official right” when a government agent uses their legitimate powers to reach an illegitimate goal. One classic example is that a judge can sentence a convicted criminal; but the judge cannot forego or reduce sentencing in exchange for the promise of a major contribution to the next re-election campaign. It’s basically forced bribery. Under the Hobbs act, the victim only needs to show that the public official got a payment to which he or she was not entitled, knowing that this payment was made in return for official acts. Victims of extortion under the color of right will find it even more difficult to report extortion, since the actor is using legitimate government powers, and is very often in a position of power and influence. Speaking with a private attorney about your rights and options can give you the confidence to consider reporting the crime and pursuing a suit.