In Los Angeles people usually just pay off extortion demands; but in some cases, particularly when clebrities are involved, it gets a little complicated.
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Los Angeles, CA (Vocus) December 2, 2009
On October 1, 2009, David Letterman announced to the world that he was the victim of extortion (commonly referred to as blackmail). He told his television audience that a man had demanded $2 million in exchange for withholding information about his sexual relations with female staff members. The next day, Anderson Cooper had Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Stephen G. Rodriguez on his show to talk about his experience defending individuals in non-celebrity extortion cases. According to Rodriguez, “In Los Angeles people usually just pay off extortion demands; but in some cases, particularly when clebrities are involved, it gets a little complicated.”
Cindy Crawford is just the most recent in a long string of celebrities, politicians and various other public figures who have been the victims of extortion (e.g., Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Michael Jordan and Rob Lowe have all been extorted.) And what better blackmailing target is there than a celebrity? Most have a lot of money and their livelihoods depend on their reputations.
The interesting thing about blackmail is that it is not a crime until you ask for money to keep the damaging material from appearing in public. So, if you found a sex tape of Paris Hilton, you could post it to YouTube or call the “National Enquirer” and sell them the story. But take 12 hours of sex tapes from Paris Hilton’s storage locker and then make her pay $20,000 per month to keep you from posting them on the Internet – that’s blackmail. If her extorter had just posted the tapes, he wouldn’t be in prison serving time for extortion.
California Extortion Laws
California extortion laws are defined in California Penal Code sections 518 to 527. Penal Code sections 518, 519, and 524. Extortion is obtaining property with a person’s consent or obtaining an official act of a public officer by inducement through the wrongful use of force or fear, or under color of official right. To constitute extortion, the force or fear must cause the consent. If there is some other primary cause of the victim’s consent, there is no extortion. The “fear” referred to may be induced by a threat to: injure a person or the victim’s property, accuse the victim or a victim’s relative of a crime, expose embarrassing or damaging information about the victim or victim’s relative or reveal or expose a secret about the victim or his family. In non-legal terms, to extort is to scare a person into handing over money, property or services in exchange for not being harmed. Blackmailing is extortion involving a threat to expose damaging information.
California Extortion Penalties
In California, extortion (or blackmail) is charged as a felony and is punishable by up to four years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The penalty for attempted extortion is up to 2 years in state prison. Extortion may also be charged as a federal crime when the extortion is committed by computer (email), by mail, phone or any other instrument of interstate commerce.
Los Angeles Extortion
In Los Angeles few extortion cases involve large dollar amounts. In many cases the amount extorted is between $5000 and $20,000 (a far cry from the $25 million initially demanded from John Travolta). Quite frankly, the average extortion victim pays the money instead of reporting it to law enforcement.
Extortion and Related Crimes
A variety of offenses are related to and/or confused with the crime of extortion. The following is a list describing some of the most common of these offenses.
- Blackmail and extortion are routinely used interchangeably, but blackmailing someone is actually a type of extortion. Extortion involves obtaining money or property from a person by threatening harmful future conduct (e.g. killing, injuring, destroying property, disclosing embarrassing and harmful information). Blackmailing involves obtaining something of value by threatening to damage someone’s reputation by disclosing harmful or disreputable information.
- Bribery is offering or accepting anything of value in exchange for influence on a public or government official, athlete, sports official, witness or juror.
- Robbery involves taking property from a person using force or fear, unlike extortion, where the victim consents (although unwillingly) and surrenders the money or property. Another factor that distinguishes robbery from extortion is the harm to the victim. Robbery is limited to immediate physical harm to the victim whereas extortion encompasses a broader variety of threats.
- Ransom is money paid to secure the release of a kidnapped person.
Los Angeles Extortion Lawyer
Very few Los Angeles extortion cases are straightforward. Many times individuals are wrongfully accused and the evidence is too ambiguous to gain an extortion conviction. If you are being investigated or have been charged with extortion, you need to speak to an experienced Los Angeles criminal lawyer, like Stephen G. Rodriguez. Our aggressive legal approach could mean the difference between a lengthy prison sentence and an acquittal.
Call us for a free confidential consultation!
Law Offices of Stephen G. Rodriguez and Associates
633 West 5th Street
Los Angeles, California 90071
info (at) lacriminaldefenseattorney (dot) com