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Eliot Sptizer’s Alleged Assault Victim, Svetlana Zakharova, Arrested For Attempted Extortion: Understanding New York Blackmail Law

Eliot Spitzer, the onetime New York State Governor and Attorney General, has once again found himself immersed in controversy. According to reports, however, the new tabloid fodder is not centered around alleged wrongdoing on the part of Client 9, but his alleged Attempted Extortion and Blackmail by Svetlana Zakharova, aka, Svetlana Travis. More specifically, Zakharova (Travis) had claimed that Spitzer met her in February 2016 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City where he choked and pushed her inside one of the rooms. Although merely speculation, it was reported that Travis worked as a high end Russian call girl and escort for as much as $5,000.00 a night. Despite Travis’ claims, after making the report to the police she refused to cooperate and returned to Russia. At some point she made financial demands of Spitzer who in turn initiated a civil suit against Travis only later dropping it.

Although I am not privy to the NYPD’s and Manhattan District Attorney’s investigation that led to the arrest of Svetlana Travis, the law of Extortion does not change from case to case. Instead, evidence must fit into the legal parameters of this crime. This blog entry will address this Grand Larceny offense and how the facts as they may be satisfy the elements of this alleged crime and conduct.

The apparent theory of the arrest for Grand Larceny by Extortion is that Travis cut herself with broken glass after Spitzer left her at the Plaza Hotel. Subsequent to that, it is alleged that Travis demanded in excess of $50,000 from Spitzer for what likely would have been her silence in connection to the assault that the Manhattan District Attorney and NYPD believe never transpired. Additionally, police arrested and prosecutors charged Travis with Second Degree Forgery for completing a lease in the name of a New Jersey man that rang up an $18,000 bill. Although stemming of Manhattan, Attempted Grand Larceny by Extortion and the Forgery offenses are being handled by the Bronx District Attorney due to the personal relationship between New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. and Spitzer.

Obviously not knowing what evidence that prosecutors and law enforcement have secured, we can still make a general assessment of the crimes and charges against Travis (or Zakharova depending on the name she is allegedly using). As a preliminary matter, the arrest is charged as an attempted crime and not a completed one because it is not asserted that Spitzer ultimately paid anything to Travis despite her demands. When a crime is not completed, but an attempt is made, the action is still criminal even if it is one level lower than it would have been in the event an accused was successful.

As applicable here, a person is guilty of larceny by Extortion (there is no crime called Blackmail), when she compels another to give her money (it need only be any type property and not actual dollars) by instilling a fear that if the victim does not do so she will accuse that victim of a crime or cause criminal charges to be commenced against him. Another theory could be that a failure to pay would result in the exposure of a secret or an asserted fact (such as a fling, tryst or assault), whether or not it is true, tending to subject the victim to contempt or ridicule. These two theories are just a couple of the numerous potential statutorily recognized subsections of Extortion.

Applying the above law as reflected in New York Penal Law 155.05(2), these acts were raised to a felony offense when Travis allegedly attempted to secure north of $50,000.00. In the eyes of the New York Criminal Justice System, any theft in excess of $50,000 is a Class “C” felony of Second Degree Grand Larceny punishable by as much as five to fifteen years in prison pursuant to New York Penal Law 155.40. However, as noted above, because the crime was never completed and was merely an attempt, the level of the offense is knocked down in terms of criminal exposure to a Class “D” felony punishable by up to two and one third to seven years in prison. Additionally, should prosecutors seek to pursue the crime, irrespective of the value of an Extortion, Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, New York Penal Law 155.30(6) makes any Extortion a crime. Again, because no monies were allegedly provided the crime would be an attempt and knocked down from a Class “E” felony punishable by as much as one and one third to four years in prison to a Class “A” misdemeanor with a potential sentence of one year in jail.

Similar to the crime of Attempted Second Degree Grand Larceny by Extortion, Second Degree Forgery pursuant to New York Penal Law 170.10 is a Class “D” felony. Very simply, when Travis allegedly completed, made, filled out or altered a written instrument constituting or purporting to be a legitimate contract or commercial instrument (the lease), she committed this crime. Depending on what she is alleged to have done and information she provided on the lease, Travis may also face an Identity Theft charge as well.

If nothing else, this case will certainly take the tabloids and the people of Gotham for ride around the water cooler. But as sexy as it may be, Travis’ arrest demonstrates the power of words and how nominal action can lead to an arrest for a very serious crime. While Spitzer may not be the most sympathetic victim, that is irrelevant in the eyes of the law and prosecutors. Whether prosecutors have recordings, emails, texts or any other statements that can fortify their case is not completely clear, but between leaving the United States after her claim, living in Russia, the public exposure of the case and potential of incarceration, there is little doubt that a judge will set bail and Travis will have ample time to ascertain and implement her defense.

To learn more about Extortion and Blackmail as either an accused or victim, review the materials and links provide here, on the NewYorkCriminalLawyerBlog.Com and the website all linked above and below.

Saland Law PC is a New York criminal defense firm founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors. The New York criminal lawyers represent individuals accused of Extortion and Blackmail as well as those who are victimized by the same.


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