Federal Crime of Blackmail and Extortion – 18 U.S.C. § 873

Generally, the federal crime of “blackmail” has become more commonly known as “extortion.” The crime of extortion is making threats to do something, or disclose something, that will in some way harm the victim of the threat.

Typically, the threat of potential harm is done in an effort to obtain something of value. This could include money or some other non-tangible benefit.

In other words, blackmail and extortion is the criminal conduct of demanding money from another person in exchange for not reporting something – or to keep something secret – such as potentially embarrassing information about the person.

18 U.S.C. § 873 describes a specific subset of blackmail or extortion that is a federal offense. For example, this statute provides penalties for any person who demands or receives money, or something of value, made under threats of informing, or consideration for not informing, against violations of federal laws.

A common blackmail or extortion threat prosecuted by a federal prosecutor within the U.S. Department of Justice is for Interstate Communications, under the related statute 18 U.S.C. § 875.

This crime involves threats of some type of harm, either economic or physical, that are accomplished by using wire transmissions, like email, text messages, computer chats, or other interstate or foreign communications.

It should be noted that the threat has to be an actual threat, and the potential harm is normally economic, but it includes other types of harm as well. The threatened harm can be to the victim’s reputation or to any information that would negatively affect their business.

Case Examples of a Federal Extortion Offense

We will use a hypothetical situation to show conduct that is prohibited under 18 U.S.C. § 873. Let’s say a there is a victim who is an executive at a highly-connected financial firm. A defendant, who is his executive supervisor, became involved in an illegal financial insider trading practice that violated federal law.

Instead of reporting the unlawful behavior to the appropriate federal agency who investigates this type of behavior, they decide to make an attempt to profit by blackmailing their supervisor.

The defendant sends an e-mail to the supervisor demanding $50,000 in exchange for their silence on reporting the illegal activity. In this scenario, the defendant violated 18 U.S.C. § 873 because they attempted to extort $50,000 from the victim, even if they never received the money.

Let’s take the same scenario and imagine the employee not interested in receiving money from his supervisor.  Rather than demanding $50,000, they make threats to expose the supervisor’s illegal activity unless he voluntarily turns himself in to federal authorities.

However, the supervisor refuses and thinks they are bluffing. So, the employee actually makes a report to federal agents. In this scenario, even though the employee did makes threats to expose violations of federal law, there was no blackmail or extortion crime due to the facts there was no connection to a demand for money, or anything of value.

This last scenario illustrates that not all threats to expose criminal behavior will be considered a blackmail offense under 18 U.S.C. § 873.

Federal Law vs. State Law

It should be noted that while state laws, including California for example, prohibits a larger variety of blackmail or extortion activity, the federal law under 18 U.S.C. § 873 only applies to threats to expose, or a consideration for not exposing.

For example, if the employee in the scenario discussed above threatens to expose his supervisor for committing a violation of a state law, such as grand theft, he could face charges under California’s extortion statute, but not the federal statute on blackmail. It should also be noted that many crimes have both state law and federal law similarities.

In actual practice, federal prosecutors are only likely to pursue blackmail or extortion charges against somebody under 18 U.S.C. § 873 if the case involves substantial federal interest. This would include a situation where the offense crossed state lines, or implicated federal law in such a manner that a state-level prosecution is not adequate to serve the interests of federal law enforcement.

As stated, there are only certain forms of extortion and threats that will be prosecuted under federal law. 18 U.S.C. Chapter 41 provides a list of various types of conduct could lead to prosecution by government, rather than a state prosecutor. criminal court. The federal statutes define a different type of crime, and the most common include:

18 U.S.C. § 872 – Extortion by employees of the United States

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 – Mail threatening communications

18 U.S.C. § 880 – Receiving the proceeds of extortion

Penalties for 18 U.S.C. § 873 Blackmail or Extortion

Blackmail or extortion under 18 U.S.C. § 873 is a federal offense that carries up to one year one year in federal prison, a fine, or both prion and a fine.

However, it should be noted the actual sentence will always vary depending on the specific details and factors listed under the United States Sentencing Guidelines, and other factors under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). This means a defendant will be subjected to broad discretion that is afforded to a federal sentencing judge.

It should also be noted that for a first-time offender, it may be possible to obtain a sentence that doesn’t include imprisonment through sentencing alternatives, such as community service, drug treatment, or home confinement.

The specific facts and circumstances of every blackmail or extortion case will be different, especially regarding a defendant’s prior criminal record, and any mitigating factors related their character and background.

Getting Help from a Federal Criminal Defense Attorney

Most federal criminal investigations are complex and will require immediate intervention by an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer to have the best chance at a favorable outcome on the case.

If you know that you are under a federal criminal investigation, or already charged with blackmail or extortion under 18 U.S.C. § 873, call our lawyers for a consultation.

We might be able to negotiate with the federal prosecutor on a pre-indictment resolution, negotiate a plea deal after a criminal filing, or we can litigate your case in a federal jury trial.

It’s crucial to note that every case is unique and you will need to first have a consultation with our federal criminal lawyers. Once we learn all the details of your blackmail or extortion case, we can guide you through the process and decide what crucial steps need to be taken protect your freedom.

Eisner Gorin LLP is a nationally recognized criminal defense law firm that represents clients throughout the United States on all type of federal crimes.

Our law firm is located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Our San Fernando Valley office is located at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401. Contact us for a consultation at (877) 781-1570.