The Webster dictionary defines extortion as the act or practice of coercing money or other property from another person. However, under Florida law, the definition of extortion encapsulates much more than that. According to Florida Statute 836.05, extortion is defined by a verbal or written communication that maliciously threatens to:
- Accuse another person of a crime or offense
- Injure a person, property, or reputation
- Expose another person to disgrace
- Expose secrets affecting another
- Impute any deformity or lack of chastity to another person
- Extort money or any other advantage
- Compel a person to do any act or refrain from doing any action against their will
All extortion statutes require that a threat must be made to another person or property of the victim. Threats to harm the victim’s relatives may also be included. In Florida, extortion statutes dictate different aspect of what could be considered extortion, the possible defenses, and its penalties. Extortions in Florida are considered a second-degree felony that carries penalties of up to 15 years in prison, 15 years of probation, and up to $10,000 in fines.
Elements of Extortion
The prosecutor must prove the defendant made a verbal or written threat. Such a threat may imply physical or psychological harm to the recipient of the threat, another person, or to property. Under Florida law, the defendant may threaten with an unlawful or lawful act. Even if the threat was a legal act, such as a lawsuit, the prosecutor could still show that the defendant acted maliciously. Also, the prosecutor must prove the defendant intended to gain financially or otherwise compel the victim to act against their will. However, Florida law doesn’t require an intent to actually carry out the threat or the ability to perform the threatened act to be considered extortion.
Extortion Special Conditions
Under the Florida Statutes, extortion is differentiated between extortion by a public officer and by a private person. For public officers, the offense requires the officer to indeed take money or gain financially from such threats.
Examples of Extortion
Extortion can take on many shapes and forms. A classic extortion example is the well-known “protection” scheme where organized crime units demand business owners to pay for protection to avoid something bad happening to either the business or the shopkeeper.
Government regulation could be considered a legalized extortion, also known as regulatory extortion. One of the most notorious political extortion examples involves a proposal to impose price controls on doctors, hospitals, and the pharmaceutical industry. Once the proposal was introduced, countless members of Congress were receiving vast campaign contributions from the medical industry.
Cyberextortion is on the rise across the world. This form of extortion leverages the internet to demand money or other goods or behavior from a person by threatening their reputation, to inflict harm, or their property. A clear example of this form of extortion uses “ransomware” to encrypt a victim’s files or documents, making them unreadable until a ransom is paid.
Everyone is susceptible to extortion schemes. Recently, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, was involved in one. The extortionist allegedly threatened Bezos with the possibility of releasing intimate photos to the media unless he met his demands. Celebrities are usually targets of personal extortion schemes, but anyone willing to maliciously threaten another person can be charged with extortion.
Companies are also susceptible to extortion. Common examples of business extortion schemes include sending malicious threats to reveal a company’s confidential information, such as clients’ information, financial documents, and so on.
Facing Extortion Charges? Speak with an Attorney
If you or someone you know is facing extortion charges or has been a victim of extortion, contact a Pompano Beach criminal defense attorney, who understands Florida’s extortion laws and can help you fight these charges.