Yes, when it rains it pours. No, not just pours, but it comes down in hail like driving sheets of rain. From catching a flight out of Russia to the United States expecting to traipse around Gotham before heading elsewhere to getting whisked away in handcuffs by the NYPD to the “Tombs” of Manhattan Central Booking, Svetlana Zakharova is arguably soaked to her core. What was initially described by the media as an attempt to extort approximately $50,000 from Eliot Spitzer, was in fact an actual and completed Grand Larceny by Extortion. According to the allegations leveled by a Bronx prosecutor serving as a special prosecutor on behalf of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, Zahkarova succeeded in scaring the heck out of Client 9 to the point that he paid his alleged extorter $400,000.
Armed with the new allegations provided at Zakharova’s arraignment in Manhattan Criminal Court, the presiding judge set bail to the tune of $1 million. Right or wrong, excessive or not, not only will Zakharova have time to put her defense together, but selfishly I can now leisurely put my rambling thoughts together to offer a brief analysis of the crimes Zakharova faces.
The main difference between the pre-arraignment and post arraignment review is that the crimes as now alleged are not attempted, but completed. Instead of an individual being accused of trying to steal north of $50,000 through Extortion, prosecutors claim that Zakharova compelled Spitzer to dip into his believed $50 million inheritance and fork over $400,000. No small amount for anyone, according to reports Spitzer acquiesced after Zahkarova repeated texted and even allegedly promised to ruin the former Governor and Attorney General of New York.
While the law is the same if a completed theft is $50,000.01 or $1 million, in the eyes of most judges and prosecutors (if not all), the practical reality is that the numbers make a different case. Further, because the crime is not an attempt and a completed one, the law that dictates the level of the crime makes this offense a Grand Larceny in the Second Degree. Simply, New York Penal Law 155.40 is perpetrated when one steals property valued north of $50,000 but no more than $1 million. If convicted, Zakharova or anyone in her shoes (they are more like low end laceless type Keds on Rikers that used to be called Air Giulianis and Air Patakis, but that’s a blog for another day) does not face a mandatory minimum term of incarceration, but as great as five to fifteen years in prison. Although a lesser charge, Zakharova also faces a Fourth Degree Grand Larceny pursuant to New York Penal Law 155.30(6). This specific subsection makes it a crime to steal property via Extortion regardless of the value of that property.
According to various media outlets, prosecutors claimed that text messages and other communications with Spitzer and his family corroborate that Zahkarova was a woman bent on getting her hands on dollars from Spitzer. Obviously, if these contacts are preserved and they bare out threats consistent with Extortion, it could be very damning evidence. However, irrespective of what these messages may seem to reflect on their face, there may or may not be a reasonable response to the assertion that they reflect Blackmail. Yes, Zakharova may attempt to avail herself of certain statutory and legal defenses to Extortion, but if the District Attorney’s Office is to be believed, there may be another victim out there whom Zakharova targeted in an Identity Theft scheme. In other words, whether its the Manhattan District Attorney or another chief law enforcement officer in a different jurisdiction, Zakharova may find herself juggling numerous legal balls.
Oh Yes. There are one or two other potential issues. An investigation into Money Laundering and Prostitution may be on the horizon, but we can cross that bridge if and when we get there. Let’s not try to prognosticate. After all, I have a hunch this made for the tabloids story will provide some with boorish locker room fodder for the foreseeable future.
- Grand Larceny by Extortion Basics
- Theft by Blackmail and Extortion in New York
- Blackmail, Extortion and Harassment Investigations: Victim Defense and Investigation
Saland Law PC is a New York criminal defense firm established by two former Manhattan prosecutors. The New York criminal lawyers at Saland Law PC represent clients accused and who are victims of Extortion and related crimes.