The Hobbs Act 18 U.S. Code § 1951, passed in 1946, is a federal law that prohibits robbery or extortion, or attempted robbery or extortion, that affects interstate or foreign commerce. The Act originally was designed to target racketeering in labor-management disputes that were common at the time. Today, the Hobbs Act is more commonly used in cases alleging public corruption and commercial disputes, although it still applies to union corruption.
The Act prohibits public officials from obtaining property “under color of official right,” or using their position of authority to extort property. It also prohibits private individuals from wrongfully using or threatening to use force, violence or fear to obtain property. Hobbs Act violations typically are investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Any crime involving the
Charges under the Hobbs Act are very serious. Conviction can result in severe financial penalties and a considerable prison sentence. There also is significant risk to your employment and reputation. Ideally, you should seek legal counsel as soon as you suspect you are under investigation.
However, the legal team at The Blanche Law Firm provides a vigorous and skilled defense at any stage in a case. Even if you already have been indicted, it is not too late to secure representation by an attorney from our firm. Because the attorneys at our firm work cooperatively, you receive the benefit of multiple legal minds working on your case. Many of our attorneys are former prosecutors who understand the law, the legal process and how best to protect your rights.
Myriad criminal schemes fall under the Hobbs Act. It is typically charged when a public official is accused of using his/her power to obtain money or other property. The official may take bribes, but the Hobbs Act also requires the use of fear or threats. Law enforcement personnel, building inspectors, licensing agency employees and other types of government officials frequently are charged with profiting illegally from their position by threatening to do or not do something to the victim. The commerce requirement of the act can be met by demonstrating that the victim’s assets were substantially affected. Even if the victim was not involved in interstate or foreign commerce, the extortion prohibited him from contributing to or participating in commerce.
Conviction of a Hobbs Act violation can result in a federal prison sentence of up to 20 years and a fine to be determined by the court. Additional sentences may be ordered for conviction of related crimes, such as robbery, assault or weapons violations.
Typical defenses to Hobbs Act charges include showing that the government failed to prove the elements of the charge — that the defendant induced or attempted to induce the alleged victim to give up property; that the defendant used the victim’s fear to obtain property; that the alleged conduct somehow affected interstate or foreign commerce; that the threat or use of force was actually wrongful. Did the case involve simple bribery without inducement or fear? If so, it may not fall under the Hobbs Act. Only a qualified attorney can analyze your case for the best defensive strategy.
New York has its own extortion charges—Grand Larceny by Extortion—under Penal Law 155.05(2)(e). Similar to the Hobbs Act, the state law involves using force or the threat of force or damage to the person’s property or reputation in order to compel another person to deliver property or money. Unlike the federal act, there is no requirement that interstate or foreign commerce be impacted.
In December 2013, a New York City Police officer and two Albanians were indicted for allegedly taking $24,000 from a Queens County restaurant owner in exchange for their “protection.” The victim alleges he was threatened with economic ruin and physical violence, including being chased down the street by a gunman.