Extortion under Massachusetts law is defined in Massachusetts General Laws Part IV, Title 1, Chapter 265, Section 25 as obtaining property from another party that was induced by improper or wrongful use of threatened or actual force.
Extortion may be committed by anyone in Massachusetts, but most often if it associated with the illegal making money or things of financial value by a federal, state or local official. Extortion often occurs when a government official, such as a law enforcement officer, uses the power they have been given from the government to obtain property or money from a person. Or, they compel that person to do something against their will.
Organized Crime Extortion in Massachusetts
Organized criminal enterprises also may commit extortion, as they threaten physical or other harm to a person or business if prompt payment is not made. For example, a member of a criminal organization may receive orders to obtain money from a small business in a neighborhood. If they will not pay, there could be a threat of violence or damage to personal property.
In a specific example, Howie Winter (crimemuseum.org) was alleged in Massachusetts of trying to extort $35,000 from two men. The prosecutors said a man contacted each victim to get a business loan of $100,000. They both agreed. A month after the borrower ceased paying the victims for that loan, Winter met with them and he told each had to pay him $35k for loaning money without his go ahead.
In law enforcement recordings, Winter said the victims they would have serious problems if they did give him the money. Victims both said they felt their lives were in direct danger. That statement indicates how the threat for extortion does not have to exactly support a charge of extortion but implies malicious intent.
Extortion or Blackmail?
There is a fine line in this state between extortion and blackmail. Though they are much alike in some respects, there are key differences. Extortion is defined as making a threat of an illegal act - such as the physical harm to another person - while demanding property or money. On the other hand, blackmail will usually involve a less physical, serious threat, such as releasing private information about a person’s personal life. The laws of Massachusetts on extortion cover all threats that are made to demand personal property or money.
Extortion Conviction in Massachusetts
To be convicted for extortion in the state, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the following:
- That you engaged in written, verbal or printed form of communication.
- The this communication was a threat.
- That the communication that threatened was undertaken in malicious fashion.
- That the threat was intended to accuse an individual of an offense or crime, or to do injury to said person/property
- That the threat was done with the idea to export property or money, or to coerce a person to perform an act against their will.
The Massachusetts state prosecutor must prove that you had intent to coerce from the other party any form of payment, including the securement of a pecuniary advantage for yourself. It is not relevant under the law whether you were successful in the attempt to commit extortion.
Massachusetts Extortion Laws and Penalties
Under Massachusetts law, both verbal and written threats to use official government power can be seen as extortion. In this case, it is a threat that is particularly malicious. That is why extortion is deemed a serious state felony in Massachusetts, with a prison term of 2.5 to 15 years in prison. It is possible to receive a heavy fine in addition to prison time. If you are convicted of extortion and had a previous conviction you can get up to 10 years in Massachusetts state prison.
The fine for an extortion conviction can be as high as $5000.
Legal Defenses to Extortion Charges in Massachusetts
A charge of extortion is serious in Massachusetts as it is a felony. Even the accusation of extortion can be severely damaging to your professional and personal lives. But there are cases where a person could be investigated for extortion due to exaggerations or a statement that was taken out of its context. Below are potential defenses to a Massachusetts extortion charge.
- No enough evidence: The state law in Massachusetts requires the defendant to have known he was making a real threat to damage the person, reputation or property with the idea to obtain money or property illegally. It is possible for an extortion charge to be made where the discussions were simply heated and were not based upon real intent to harm another.
- Lack of admissible evidence: There could be strong evidence that supports an extortion charge against you, but it may not be admissible. Evidence used in court must have been legally obtained by law enforcement or other government agents. If the evidence was gathered in interrogations without Miranda warnings, for example, it is inadmissible in court. Your criminal defense attorney may argue that the evidence should be thrown out and the charges dismissed.
- Attempted Extortion: If you received no money or property in the alleged distortion attempt, the state prosecutor may still attempt to bring a charge based upon an attempt to extort money or property. Your defense attorney might argue you lacked the intent and no steps were taken to extort anyone of anything.
- Other less common defense are you were forced to perform an illegal act under duress; you were intoxicated at the time of the alleged crime; or you lacked otherwise the mental capacity at the time to commit the crime.
Statute of Limitations for Extortion in Massachusetts
If you may have committed extortion in the last few years, be aware there is a long statute of limitations for the crime in Massachusetts. If the crime is not mentioned in Massachusetts General Laws, which extortion is not, the accepted statute of limitations for this crime is six years.
- Massachusetts General Laws. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartIV/TitleI/Chapter265/Section25