The legal definition of extortion means obtaining property of another where his consent is induced by use of or threatened use of violence or fear. The word extortion conjures up images of members of organized crime using rough tactics to collect loans.

The crime of extortion is prosecuted under a federal statute known as the Hobbs Act. The statute makes it a crime to commit or even threaten to commit physical violence to any person or property for the purpose of obtaining property. The extortion scheme must obstruct, delay or in any way affect commerce. Miami attorney Ken Swartz has the qualifications and experience in representing those accused of extortion in Florida.

Extortion offenses can be found in the white collar crime world of political corruption. A politician who uses his official authority to persuade someone doing business with the city to make payments is committing extortion. Something of value is acquired by the official who uses office or position to obtain a payment. This is known as “under color of official right.” It requires a showing that the payments are made in return for an explicit promise or undertaking to perform an official act. The Supreme Court has said is not against to law merely by proof of a campaign donation followed by an act favorable to the donor. So it is not extortion where a legislator acts for the benefit of a constituent or supports legislation furthering the interests of the constituent and then before or after solicits and receives campaign contribution. For extortion to be criminal, there must be some explicit quid pro quo and the payment must be made in return for some act or performance. The public office-holder need not commit and force or duress because the coercive element is supplied by the existence of the public office itself.

An example of official committing extortion was case where the Sheriff of the County who approached the owner of a company that had a food service contract with the jail. The sheriff periodically asked for money and the food service owner gave it to him fearing that if he did not he would lose the contract with the county. This would have been extortion. Another example is found in a case where a club owner agreed to supply liquor to police officers in exchange for police protection.

Courts have wrestled with the question of what is a potential affect on commerce for federal jurisdiction. The conclusion reached in the Eleventh Circuit is that a substantive Hobbs Act violation only requires proof that the extortionate scheme would have affected commerce. This affect need only be a de minimis impact on commerce. In other words a minimal impact on commerce is sufficient to bring this under the federal law.

Not all judges favored the increased use of the Hobbs act make it a federal crime for any extortion. The belief among some judges was that the Hobbs Act would completely subsume state court extortion and robbery laws by creating a federal offense in each case in which the pay-off is at all likely to cross state lines. These opinions arose from a belief that Congress did not intend federalization of crimes normally handled by state authorities.

If you or someone you know is accused of extortion, contact Miami attorney Ken Swartz at the Swartz Law Firm to schedule an initial consultation.

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