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Definition of Extortion
EXTORTION can be a state or federal crime, depending upon the circumstances. In short, extortion is when a person unlawfully obtains money, property, or services from a person, institution, or entity through coercion (versus violent means). The coercive tactics may include threats or intimations of violence. The money, property, or service does not have to change hands for an individual to be charged with extortion only the threat of harm for nonpayment or the ceasing of harm for payment. extortion can also be cited when someone offers to “protect” someone from harm for payment. It should be noted that extortion in context of an email or other computer communications is a Federal crime as if violates interstate commerce statutes.
There is another crime in New York known as larceny by extortion. This crime as opposed to the crime of coercion involves taking, obtaining or withholding of property and coercion is making the victim take some ACTION that such as a sexual act or being compelled to join a criminal enterprise or group when the victim could have legally refused to do so.
Also the crime of extortion can come up in other statutes not listed below, such as bribery of public officials. This crime is actually scattered throughout the statutes and anyone accused of any form of extortion will need to talk with an experienced criminal defense attorney so that they can parse out the charges and bring about their best defense. Below are the statutes that apply specifically to coercion and to the crime of larceny by extortion.
NEW YORK PENAL CODE: Extortion Laws
§135.60 Coercion in the Second Degree
A person is guilty of this charge in the second degree if they have coerced another person to engage in any conduct they could legally abstain from doing. This could be a sexual act or even coercing another person to do something. Also this is the charge if a person is coerced into not doing something they have a legal right to do such as perhaps run for public office. Finally, it is coercion in the second degree if the person is forced to join a group or criminal organization they would have a legal right not to join.This coercion has to take the form of instilling a fear in that person that if they do not comply they will:
- Be physically harmed.
- Their property or that of another might be damaged.
- Engage in other conduct constituting a crime.
- Cause someone to be accused of a crime.
- Expose a secret or fact that will subject the victim to hatred, contempt or ridicule.
- Cause a strike or labor action.
- Testify or withhold testimony in favor of the victim.
- Use their power as a public servant to harm the victim.
- Perform any other act that would harm the victim in their health, safety, business, reputation or personal relationships.
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Coercion in the second degree is a Class A misdemeanor.
§135.65 Coercion in the First Degree
This is when a person commits the elements of Coercion in the Second Degree and:
- They instill in the victim fear of personal or property damage;
- They induce the victim to commit a felony or attempt to commit one; cause serious personal injury to a person; violate their duty as a public servant.
Coercion in the First Degree is a Class D Felony.
§155.05(2) Definition of Extortion in Grand Larceny
It is extortion when a person obtains property by forcing another person to give the property to the extortionist by creating fear that if the victim does not comply they or someone they know will be physically injured or cause damage to their property.
§155.30(6) Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree
Basically this is charged when a person commits larceny, not matter what the value of the property, by extortion as defined above. Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree is a Class E felony which can carry a penalty of as high as four years in prison.
§155.40(2) Grand Larceny in the Second Degree
This level of grand larceny is charged no matter what the value of the property if it was taken by extortion of “threatening physical injury, damage to another person’s property or abuse of one’s position as a public servant”.
In the second degree, this is a Class C felony with the possibility of up to 15 years in state prison.
This case had so much going on that there was a 22 count indictment which included degrees of grand larceny by extortion, also attempted extortion, coercion and attempted coercion along with many other related charges. A short summary from the case report is that these charges arise out of the 2002 primary election campaigns of Judges Karen Yellen and Marcia Sikowitz for Kings County Civil Court. Basically the charges were that the defendants demanded that Yellen and Sikowitz campaign use a vendor designated by the defendants to produce and distribute campaign literature for at least three joint mailings, and pay another person designated by the defendants to run campaign “operations” in Central Brooklyn during the campaign and (as to Yellen) on primary day. The extortion or threat was that if they did not comply, the defendants would cause the Democratic Party to withdraw its endorsement and/or support from the candidates. People v Feldman 2005 NY Slip Op 25083 [7 Misc 3d 794] March 3, 2005
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Coercion can also be a defense. If a person can prove that they were coerced or extorted to commit a criminal act, this can be a defense for them if they are charged with the criminal offense.
The best person to discuss the ins and outs of the complex statutes on Extortion and Coercion is a criminal defense attorney. The attorneys at the Law Office of Bukh & Associates, PLLC have experience in all areas of criminal law and have handled many extortion cases.
If someone is concerned about a charge of extortion or coercion, they can call us any time of day, 7 days a week.