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Federal Blackmail and Extortion Law - 18 U.S.C. § 873

Federal Blackmail or Extortion - 18 U.S.C. § 873
Blackmail and extortion laws under 18 U.S.C. § 873 makes it a crime to use threats to persuade someone to provide you with benefits or compel them to act a certain way.

It's a crime to use threats or extortion to persuade someone to provide you with benefits or to compel them to behave in a certain manner.

You could face charges under state laws if you engage in threatening type behavior, but it's also possible to face federal criminal charges, which carries more severe penalties.

This type of federal crime is a serious issue and not all defense attorneys handle federal extortion cases as it requires expertise in federal criminal defense as they are often complex cases. 

Blackmail, sometimes referred to as extortion, is the practice of:

  • demanding money from someone in exchange for
  • not reporting or keeping secret some embarrassing information about the individual.

Under Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 873, a more specific subset of blackmail or extortion is prohibited as a federal crime

Specifically, 18 U.S.C. § 873 punishes anyone who either demands or receives money, or any other valuable thing, under the threat of informing, or as consideration for not informing, against any violation of United States law. 

Put in common terms, this statute criminalizes blackmail related to the victim's own violations of law.

In other words, extortion cases often involve someone calling a person or actually meeting them and then attempt to get that person to give some money or do something for them, or give some type of valuable consideration as part of a plot to extort them.  

In some cases, tape-recorded conversations are used, but there are many different angles used in order to carry out the extortion.

Federal Extortion Case Example

Imagine the victim is a high-powered executive at a financial firm. The defendant, his subordinate, learns that the boss has been engaging in unlawful financial practices such as insider trading which are crimes under United States law.

Rather than report his boss to the appropriate regulatory agency, the defendant decides that it would be more profitable to blackmail the boss. 

He sends an e-mail to the boss demanding $1,000,000 in exchange for his silence about the boss' own criminal activity. 

The defendant employee has violated 18 U.S.C. § 873 by attempting to extort $1,000,000 from the victim, even though he never actually received the payment.

In the same scenario, suppose that the employee is altruistic and is not interested in extracting a payment from his employer. 

Instead of demanding $1,000,000, the employee threatens to expose the boss if he does not turn himself in voluntarily for his securities law violations.

The boss refuses, so the employee reports him to federal authorities.

Even though the employee threatened to reveal the employer's violation of United States law, no blackmail or extortion occurred because the threat of exposer had no connection to a demand for or receipt of money or any other valuable thing.

As you can see, not all threats to expose criminal behavior constitute blackmail under 18 U.S.C. § 873.

Federal Laws on Extortion and Threats

Further, while state law, including in California, may prohibit a wider variety of blackmail or extortion related activity, it should be noted that 18 U.S.C. § 873 only covers:

  • threats to expose, or consideration for not exposing, violations of federal law. 

This means that if the employee in our example threatened to expose his boss for a purely state law crime, such as petty theft, he could potentially be charged under California's extortion statute, but not under the federal blackmail statute. 

Many crimes, however, have both state law and federal law analogues. In real practice, the federal government would likely only commit to prosecuting someone under 18 U.S.C. § 873 if:

  • the case involved a significant federal interest
  • crossed state lines, or
  • otherwise implicated federal law such that a state-level prosecution was inadequate to serve the interests of federal law enforcement

As noted, only certain types of extortion and threats will result in federal criminal charges.

18 U.S.C. Chapter 41 describes various type of conduct that will lead to prosecution by the federal government, rather than a state criminal court.

There various statutes define a different type of crime and penalties:

  • 18 U.S.C. § 871 - Threats against President and successors,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 872 - Extortion by officers or employees of the United States,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 873 – Blackmail,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 874 - Kickbacks from public works employees,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 875 - Interstate communications,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 876 - Mail threatening communications,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 877 - Mail threatening communications from another country,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 878 - Threats against foreign officials, guests, or protected people,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 879 - Treats against former Presidents and certain other people,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 880 - Receiving the proceeds of extortion.

18 U.S.C. § 873 Blackmail or Extortion Penalties

Blackmail or extortion under Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 873 is a federal crime punishable by:

  • up to one year in federal prison, a fine, or both imprisonment and a fine. 

The actual sentence received by the defendant will vary depending on the factors contained in the United States Sentencing Guidelines, the equitable factors contained in Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 3553(a), and are subject to the relatively broad discretion of the sentencing judge.

For a first time offender, it may be possible to secure a non-custodial sentence through sentencing alternatives such as home confinement, community service, drug treatment, etc. 

The particular facts and circumstances of each case will vary, particularly with respect to the defendant's prior criminal history and mitigating factors related to their background and character.

Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer

Federal criminal investigations are complex and require the involvement of an experienced federal criminal defense attorney in order to maximize the chances of a successful outcome. 

If you or a family member is under criminal investigation for, or has already been indicted for, blackmail or extortion under 18 U.S.C. § 873, contact our attorneys for an initial consultation. 

Depending on the particular circumstances of your case, we may be able to negotiate a pre-indictment resolution, negotiate a plea deal after a filing has already occurred, or potentially litigate your case in a federal jury trial.

As every case is different, consultation with our experienced federal criminal defense attorneys will allow us to guide you through the process and determine what the immediate critical steps are to protect your rights and begin working toward the optimal outcome for your particular situation.

Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-rated criminal defense law firm located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Call our office for a consultation at (310) 328-3776.

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