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Criminal Defense Attorney Explains Law on Blackmail

An experienced New York state and federal criminal defense attorney explains the law in New York state as it relates to blackmail.

Recently, late night talk show host David Letterman went to law enforcement authorities because he claimed that he was the victim of blackmail. Both state and federal law make it illegal to blackmail someone in New York. Under federal law, 18 USC Section 873 (Chapter 41: Extortion and Threats) is specifically named “Blackmail,” and applies to “[w]hoever, under a threat of informing, or as a consideration for not informing, against any violation of any law of the United States, demands or receives any money or other valuable thing…” The charge goes on to say that any such person “shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.”

In New York state law, there is no specific “blackmail” statute, but there are laws against extortion contained in the Penal Law. Penal Law Section 155.05 defines the various methods by which a person can commit larceny under New York state law, and specifically includes several forms of extortion in Subsection (2)(e). That subsection explains the following:

A person obtains property by extortion when he compels or induces another person to deliver such property to himself or to a third person by means of instilling in him a fear that, if the property is not so delivered, the actor or another will:
(i) Cause physical injury to some person in the future; or
(ii) Cause damage to property; or
(iii) Engage in other conduct constituting a crime; or
(iv) Accuse some person of a crime or cause criminal charges to be instituted against him; or
(v) Expose a secret or publicize an asserted fact, whether true or false, tending to subject some person to hatred, contempt or ridicule; or
(vi) Cause a strike, boycott or other collective labor group action injurious to some person’s business; except that such a threat shall not be deemed extortion when the property is demanded or received for the benefit of the group in whose interest the actor purports to act; or
(vii) Testify or provide information or withhold testimony or information with respect to another’s legal claim or defense; or
(viii) Use or abuse his position as a public servant by performing some act within or related to his official duties, or by failing or refusing to perform an official duty, in such manner as to affect some person adversely; or
(ix) Perform any other act which would not in itself materially benefit the actor but which is calculated to harm another person materially with respect to his health, safety, business, calling, career, financial condition, reputation or personal relationships.

The seriousness of larceny by extortion charges in New York state usually depends upon the amount of money that is taken in aggregate from a single victim. Anything less than $1000 is Petit Larceny, a Class A misdemeanor. Between $1000 and $2999.99 gets one charged with the Class E felony of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree (Penal Law 155.30), Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (Penal Law 155.35, a Class D felony) applies to thefts less than $50,000, and Grand Larceny in the Second Degree (Penal Law 155.40, a Class C felony) applies to thefts up to one million dollars. (Obviously, then, Grand Larceny in the First Degree, a Class B felony, applies to thefts in excess of one million dollars – Penal Law Section 155.42)).

However, it should be noted that it is a serious Class C felony (Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, Penal Law 155.40), where “property, regardless of its nature and value, is obtained by extortion committed by instilling in the victim a fear that the actor or another person will (a) cause physical injury to some person in the future, or (b) cause damage to property, or (c) use or abuse his position as a public servant by engaging in conduct within or related to his official duties, or by failing or refusing to perform an official duty, in such manner as to affect some person adversely.”

If you or a loved one have been accused of blackmail or extortion in state of federal court, you should strongly consider contacting the experienced criminal defense attorneys and former prosecutors at Galluzzo & Arnone LLP.