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Blackmail and Extortion: Indirect Threats Still Violate the New York Criminal Law

What are the laws defining Blackmail in New York? Is Blackmail merely another word for Extortion? Are either one or both of these – Blackmail or Extortion – technically crimes in New York State? What is my recourse if I am either a victim of Extortion or, alternatively, accused of Blackmail?

As a preliminary matter, whether you choose to pursue criminal charges against an extorter or not, New York makes any Extortion a class “E” felony irrespective of the property the blackmailer takes from you or the value of that property. The crimes is more serious and a higher degree felony based on the value of the property as it exceeds $3,000.00, $50,000.00 and $1 million. Further, when violence or threats of violence are part of a Blackmail, crimes of this nature further ratchet up what might otherwise be a base level violation of New York Penal Law 155.30(6).

Without getting too lost in the weeds, this particular blog entry will address when words on their face may not clearly reflect an extortive intent, but circumstantially and practically establish a violation of Grand Larceny by Extortion.

While not every violent extorter will threaten to break your legs or burn your home to the ground unless you comply with their demands, the “end game” is often implicit in their words and actions. Clearly, if a party compels you to pony up your car, a family heirloom, or good old fashion cash because your failure to do so will result in a physical injury, damage to your property, accusation of crime you did or did not commit, exposure of a secret subjecting you to ridicule, or any other adverse act against you calculated to harm your business, health, finances, safety, or reputation without any benefit to the blackmailer, you are a victim of a crime. Simply (as far from simple anything can actually be) words are important in any criminal Blackmail case.

So, what if your blackmailer is far from explicit and is instead vague? Is a failure to use certain words fatal to a criminal case? The answer to this is obviously examined on a case by case basis, but one recent appeal took the common sense approach to finding a legally sufficient Blackmail even without the otherwise critically important direct threats. In People v. Jennings, 140 A.D. 3d 526 (1st Dept. 2016), the First Department (an appeals court), found that the defendant in fact violated New York Penal Law 155.05[2](e). Although the details were not provided, the Court reasoned that the jury could concluded where victims of an extortion relented to the demand for payment in return for “classic ‘protection’” money, “acquiescence made no sense unless the victims had been placed in fear by express or implied threats.” In non-legal words, the Court responded with…Why the heck would a legitimate business pay money for “protection” but for the fact that if they didn’t some bad dudes were going to give it to them and in an ugly way whether it was a breaking their bones, accusations that would destroy the business or some other extortive threat?

The reality is that like any other crime, prosecutors can prove Extortion beyond a reasonable doubt through direct evidence or circumstantial. Certainly, whether we are representing a victim of Blackmail who does not want to go through law enforcement to shut down an Extorter or representing an alleged Blackmailer, direct evidence and words can make or break a case, but they are not essential.

Lesson here? Watch what you say and how you say it. Texts, emails and voicemails are tremendous assets to the accused and accuser depending on the communication. Don’t think for a second that because you did not make or receive a specific threat no violation of the law occurred even if those same statements can fortify a criminal case.

To better understand the felony crimes of Extortion in New York and representation as either a defendant or victim of this crime, review Saland Law PC’s Blackmail and Extortion Law Information Page and Blackmail Investigations and Victim Representation Page where you can review materials valuable to victims of Extortion and alleged Blackmailers.

Saland Law PC is a New York criminal defense firm representing clients in all larceny related crimes as both victims and defendants throughout the New York City region.

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