Federal Blackmail and Extortion: Is There a Difference Between These Crimes?

Blackmail vs Extortion Difference

Federal Blackmail and Extortion involve threats, coercion, or manipulation to force the victim to engage in conduct against their will. Learn more here.

Although, in some states, the terms blackmail and extortion are used interchangeably, they are two different crimes. However, both crimes include coercion or some act of force.

Extortion is a crime that involves the use of coercion to obtain property, money, or services from a victim. Coercion, in this case, usually involves force, violence, threats to destroy property, and improper government action.

On the other hand, blackmail doesn’t involve force or threat of violence. The term blackmail typically involves someone knowing a secret about another person and staying quiet about it if that person offers them something they want. The said secret is potentially embarrassing information that can damage the victim’s reputation, societal standing, relationships, or professional career. The offender promises to keep this information confidential in exchange for property, services, or money.

Engaging in any threatening or violent behavior can result in charges under state laws. However, one can also face federal charges for blackmail and extortion. If you have violated federal law, you could face harsher penalties.

Reaching out to a criminal lawyer experienced with federal criminal defense cases would be a good move since these cases are often complex.

Federal Blackmail Law: How Blackmail Becomes a Crime Under Federal Law

For blackmail to be charged as a federal crime, specific elements must be met. The elements of federal blackmail are:

  1.  The defendant must demand or receive something of value from the victim, for example, demanding money
  2. A defendant threatened to inform or considered not to inform authorities of a violation of a US law
  3. The defendant’s secret was regarding a violation of federal laws. Threats to reveal embarrassing but not criminal behavior would not, by themselves, trigger a violation of the federal blackmail statute.

In other words, demanding something of value in exchange for silence about some type of federal crime can be considered a federal offense of blackmail.

On the other hand, extortion involves a broader range of criminal conduct. In addition, only certain types of extortion and threats will be prosecuted under federal law. For example, these types of extortion and threats include extortion by United States employees, mailing threatening communications, threats against former Presidents, and threats and extortion against foreign officials. 

Example of Federal Blackmail

Imagine that an employee learns that his boss is engaged in unlawful financial practices which violate US law. If the employee simply reports to the boss, they wouldn’t face any repercussions, unlike their boss. Federal blackmail will not be committed, however, if the employee threatens to report his boss to the police if he does not turn himself in. Even though the employee threatened their boss, there was no demand for any valuable thing.

But, if the employee demands 2 million dollars for not reporting their boss to the appropriate agency, that would mean the employee could be charged for committing blackmail under federal law.

However, the situation significantly escalates if the employee seeks financial gain for their silence. In such a case, the act of demanding 2 million dollars crosses the boundary from whistleblowing into the realm of extortion blackmail, a serious violation of federal law.

This violation is not taken lightly by the justice system. If such a case falls under the purview of a federal prosecutor, the accused could face severe penalties, possibly affecting their freedom and financial stability. The interplay with interstate commerce could also amplify the severity, given the broader implications on the economy.

Successfully navigating blackmail or extortion charges, particularly at the federal level, requires skilled legal assistance. The law around these offenses is complex and varies based on specific circumstances. Sentencing alternatives, such as probation or fines, might be available depending on the case specifics and the skill of the defense. It’s crucial to understand that while reporting violations of federal laws is often protected, turning it into an avenue for personal gain is a serious offense, punishable by law. Consult with a whistleblower attorney for guidance.

Federal Extortion Statute: What Is the Hobbs Act?

Hobbs Act is one of the federal statutes under which most federal extortion cases are prosecuted. Although the statute was used to fight organized crime, federal prosecutors started using it for commercial disputes and public corruption.

This statute defines extortion as “obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened harm, violence, or fear, or under color of official right.”

Being accused of extortion can be frightening, especially to a person who has never been charged with a crime or investigated for a federal criminal investigation. But, facing charges of violating the Hobbs Act in connection with extortion is grave. Reaching out to a fraud attorney with experience handling state and federal cases is crucial.

Penalties for a Federal Crime of Blackmail and Extortion

Under the United States Code, blackmail is a misdemeanor offense. Blackmail convictions can result in up to a year in federal prison, a fine of up to $100,000, or both.

Federal extortion penalties can result in steep fines and lengthy prison sentences, depending on the type of extortion. The Hobbs Act imposes imprisonment of up to 20 years.

The actual sentence will depend on the specific factors listed under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. That means a federal sentencing judge has broad discretion when deciding the sentence. However, in addition to the circumstances of each crime, the judge would typically consider the defendant’s criminal record and whether there are mitigating factors related to the defendant’s background and character.

Chapter 18 of the US Code, which deals with extortion and threats, also includes other crimes, including mailing threatening communication or interstate communications, that can sometimes include extortion or blackmail. Threatening someone and extorting money or other valuable things using the United States Postal Service, for instance, can be considered a serious crime that carries harsh penalties.

Sometimes, a blackmail or extortion case can be prosecuted by either state law or federal law agencies on behalf of the federal government. Federal authorities most likely would prosecute a case if it crossed state lines or otherwise implicated federal law or if a state-level prosecution can’t adequately serve the interests of federal law enforcement.

Why Do You Need a Competent Blackmail and Extortion Lawyer?

Federal extortion and blackmail charges carry harsh penalties if convicted. A Maryland criminal lawyer experienced in federal criminal defense, especially extortion law, may be able to negotiate a plea deal with the prosecution. In the event of a conviction, we will fight for a sentence other than imprisonment, such as probation or community service.

But we can also litigate your case in a federal jury trial. Scrofano Law PC has a proven track record of success in protecting the rights of people accused of federal crimes. At all stages of your criminal case, we will vigorously represent you.


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