18 U.S. Code § 880 - Receiving the Proceeds of Extortion
Using threats and extortion to obtain money, goods, or other favors is a crime in every state. When these behaviors utilize interstate or foreign communications, such as using a phone, internet, or U.S. mail, or involving government agencies—it becomes a federal crime, which can result in more severe penalties.
Federal law criminalizes numerous forms of extortion, and even receiving, hiding, or disposing of the money or property gained by extortion is a separate federal crime under Title 18 U.S. Code 880. You could face up to 3 years in federal prison if convicted under this law.
The crime of “blackmail” has now become known as “extortion,” which is threatening to do or disclose something that will somehow harm the potential victim of the threat. The threat of potential harm is often made to obtain something of value, whether it is money or some other non-tangible benefit.
The most common type of extortion prosecuted by the United States Department of Justice is for interstate communications involving threats of harm, such as physical or economic, accomplished by using wire transmissions like email, text, faxes, computer chat messages, wires, or other foreign communications.
The threat must be an actual threat, and the potential or threatened harm could be economic. Still, it could also be to reputation or any information negatively affecting someone's business.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Postal Inspectors, U.S. Homeland Security, and the U.S. Secret Service usually conduct investigations of threatening communications. Let's review this federal law further below.
What Does the Law Say?
The text of 18 U.S.C. 880 is pretty straightforward: "A person who receives, possesses, conceals, or disposes of any money or other property which was obtained from the commission of any offense under this chapter that is punishable by imprisonment for more than one year, knowing the same to have been unlawfully obtained, shall be imprisoned not more than three years, fined under this title, or both."
"Under this chapter" refers to Chapter 41 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, namely, the federal laws about acts of extortion.
In simplest terms, beyond the acts of extortion themselves, 18 U.S.C. 880 criminalizes the "proceeds" of such actions, effectively making it a crime to have, store, or hide any money or property obtained as a result of these acts.
The money or property itself becomes contraband. Other things to know about this law:
- Violations of 18 U.S.C. 880 are limited only to federal extortion crimes carrying a penalty of more than one year in prison. So, for example, extortion committed by U.S. employees defined under 18 U.S.C. 872 and acts of blackmail defined under 18 U.S.C. 873 are punishable by a maximum of one year in prison, so you wouldn't be charged with a crime for possessing the proceeds of these activities.
- You don't have to commit any act of extortion yourself to be charged with this crime. All that needs to happen for you to be charged under 18 U.S.C. 880 is to handle any money or property that you know was obtained by extortion or threats at the federal level.
What Are the Proceeds of Extortion?
The proceeds of extortion can be anything: money, goods, services, or other favors obtained as a result of threats, coercion, or other illegal behavior.
Specifically, any money or property obtained due to federal violations under Title 18, Chapter 41 carries a penalty of more than one year in prison. Examples include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Proceeds obtained from threats against current, potential, or former Presidents of the United States (18 U.S.C. 871, 879);
- Proceeds from coerced kickbacks from construction employees on works involving federal money (18 U.S.C. 874);
- Money received as a result of using interstate communications to send ransom messages or threats (18 U.S.C. 875);
- Money received as a result of ransom messages or threats sent via U.S. mail (18 U.S.C. 876);
- Proceeds from threats or extortion against foreign officials (18 U.S.C. 878).
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: Donald participated in a kidnapping scheme in which $2 million in ransom was paid for releasing a family member after sending a threatening letter.
Donald asks his friend Jerry to store his portion of the ransom in his safe until "things cool off" in return for a percentage of the money, and Jerry agrees.
Donald and Jerry can be charged under 18 U.S.C. 880—Donald for receiving the extortion money, and Jerry, for hiding it.
EXAMPLE 2: Timothy discovers a scandalous secret about a congressional candidate and goes to the campaign office, threatening to go to press unless paid $250,000. The candidate agrees to pay him off.
While Timothy may be charged with blackmail under federal laws, he would likely not be also charged under 18 U.S.C. 880 because his crime is only punishable by one year or less in prison.
What Are the Related Federal Statutes?
18 U.S. Code Chapter 41 extortion and threats have several federal statutes that are related to 18 U.S.C. 880 receiving the proceeds of extortion, such as the following:
- 18 U.S.C. 871 – Threats against President and successors;
- 18 U.S.C. 872 – Extortion by officers or U.S. employees;
- 18 U.S.C. 873 – Blackmail;
- 18 U.S.C. 874 – Kickbacks from public works employees;
- 18 U.S.C. 875 – Interstate communications;
- 18 U.S.C. 876 – Mailing threatening communications;
- 18 U.S.C. 877 – threatening communications from a foreign country;
- 18 U.S.C. 878 – Threats and extortion against foreign officials;
- 18 U.S.C. 879 – Threats against former Presidents and other persons.
What Are the Penalties for 18 U.S.C. 880?
The penalty for violating U.S.C. 880 is up to 3 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, or both. In addition to incarceration and fines, those convicted may be subject to asset forfeiture equivalent to the dollar amount obtained by extortion.
What Are the Defenses for 18 U.S.C. 880?
The primary element prosecutors must prove when charging you with receiving the proceeds of extortion is that you knew that the money or property was unlawfully obtained—in other words, you knew it came from illegal extortion or threats.
Thus, the most common defense against 18 U.S.C. 880 is that you were unaware that the money you received, possessed, concealed, etc., came from an act of extortion.
Perhaps we can negotiate with the federal prosecutor on a pre-indictment resolution, a plea deal after a criminal filing, or we can litigate your case in a federal jury trial.
Most federal criminal investigations are complex and require immediate intervention by an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer to have the best chance at a favorable outcome.
If you know that you are under a federal criminal investigation or already charged with 18 U.S.C. 880 for receiving proceeds from extortion, contact our law firm by phone or use the contact form to review the case details and legal options.
We represent clients throughout the United States on all types of federal crimes. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California.