Under federal law, there are many different types of extortion that might be prosecuted as a federal crime. Extortion can stand on its own as a federal offense, or it can be part of a pattern of offenses including bribery and corruption. One of the most pertinent forms of federal extortion is defined in 18 U.S.C. § 872, which provides a penalty of up to three years for agents of the federal government who commit an act of extortion. Extortion stands apart from other forms of racketeering and theft in that it always includes a written or verbal theft.
All states have individual laws against extortion. Federal extortion laws focus upon threats that impact federal employees, or threats that come from federal employees themselves. These include appointed personnel, such as federal government workers, as well as elected officials. Extortion may be treated as a federal crime even in cases where no federal entity was a party to the crime if the threat crosses state lines. For example, if a threat is mailed from one state to another, the crime is likely to be treated as a federal matter. The same is possible if the threat was issued over the Internet.
Extortion Crimes & Charges
Federal extortion laws provide protections both to and against federal employees. This is because extortion can be a very powerful way for a corrupt government official to negatively impact the lives of others. Likewise, federal extortion laws also provide for prosecution in cases where the crime involved multiple states or multiple types of offenses. Some charges defined by federal statute include:
- Threats against the President and certain successors to the office of president may be treated as examples of criminal extortion. In many of these cases, the individual making the threat is investigated immediately by the FBI. Intent is used to judge whether further prosecution should be pursued.
- Extortion by any agent of the United States government, including officers and employees, is treated as a federal matter, and can be compounded by the use of federal authority to effect such extortion.
- Mailing threating communications across state lines, even if from a foreign country, can be prosecuted as federal extortion, especially if the intent was to coerce the victim of the threatening communication to give the threatening party some valuable consideration.
- Threats against foreign dignitaries and officials while they are guests of the United States, as well as threats against former Presidents and certain other protected persons, are all prohibited and may fall under federal extortion statutes.
- Receiving the proceeds of extortion, whether or not you are the individual who made the original threats, can result in prosecution for federal extortion. Those who receive the proceeds of extortion may be subject to imprisonment between one and three years, depending on whether they knowingly received those proceeds or not.
Extortion generally results in a prison term and a fine. The specific extent of each of these punishments will depend on the type of extortion that the individual engaged in, whether they were the direct perpetrator or a party to the crime, and whether they knowingly benefited from the crime.
Extortion Sentencing Guidelines
A point system is used to inform the sentencing process in an extortion case. The base offense level is 18, with increases taking place based upon the specific nature of the threat and its material results.
Extortion Statute of Limitations
The federal statute 18 USC 3282 is crucial in determining federal, noncapital statutes of limitations. It provides that an indictment must exist within 60 months of the crime in question or it cannot be prosecuted.
Federal extortion cases are relatively rare. When they take place, they generally include a wide variety of other charges, such as corruption, bribery, and graft. In recent years, many of those prosecuted under federal extortion laws have been public officials at a municipal or state level. Some examples of recent extortion cases include:
- In May 2013, a former state treasurer of the State of Arkansas, Martha Shoffner, was arrested on federal extortion charges. She was later indicted on multiple charges related to receiving federal funds and other potential crimes. (U.S. Attorney’s Office)
- In 2012, an online sex extortion operation allegedly run by Indiana-based Richard Leon Finkbiner was uncovered. This is believed by many observers to be the largest extortion operation of its kind to date. (News Sentinel)
Extortion Quick Links & References
- The Specific Challenges Related to Fighting Federal Extortion Charges in a Court of Law
- An Overview of Extortion as a Criminal Charge, Plus Related Crimes and Statutes
- Money Laundering and Extortion Charges and Defense Overview, Kansas Law Firm
- Punishments and Sentences Related to Federal Extortion Charges, With References
- Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, Enacted by Congress in 1970
- U.S. Sentencing Commission Guidelines on Extortion, Robbery, and Blackmail
Extortion Laws by State
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming