According to New York Penal Law Section 155.05, under the umbrella statute of larceny, extortion is defined as follows:
A person obtains property by extortion when he compels or induces another person to deliver such property to himself or to a third person by means of instilling in him a fear that, if the property is not so delivered, the actor or another will:
(v) Expose a secret or publicize an asserted fact, whether true or false, tending to subject some person to hatred, contempt or ridicule….
Late last week, David Letterman shocked his audience with the revelation that he had been the target of a $2 million ‘sextortion’ scheme.
After giving testimony to a New York grand jury, Letterman took the wind out of his would-be-extortionist’s sails by announcing the details about his interoffice sex life directly on The Late Show. Meanwhile, Robert “Joe” Halderman, the 48 Hours producer accused of attempting to fleece Letterman, is now under arrest, has pleaded innocent and has been convicted of idiocy by the court of public opinion.
Which brings us to a general realization: Extortionists aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed. And there are obviously some pretty dim lawyers out there, so what happens when the two get together? Larceny. So, with apologies to Mr. Letterman, we give you Four Stupid Lawyer Extortionist Tricks.
All Rise For The Honorable Extortionist
If you absolutely must commit extortion, you should probably focus on the vulnerable and ignorant. While those two adjectives might describe some lawyers, they certainly don’t do justice to the profession as a whole, which has an obvious inside track when it comes to beating back illegality.
So what kind of a numbskull would try to extort money from a lawyer? Would you believe a judge?
Yup. Meet Former Judge Thomas J. Spargo. He was convicted this summer of trying to extort money from three (count ‘em, three!) lawyers who had appeared before him. [Times Union]
In the wake of the Letterman case, Gerald B. Lefcourt, a criminal defense attorney in Manhattan, told The New York Times, “Threatened lawsuits, and even filed lawsuits, are often no more than blackmail.”
The paper described Lefcourt’s position thusly: “Attorneys… can create a legal filing that promises to bring out unpleasant facts in depositions or during trial; a settlement is not, technically, a payoff. He called it ‘wrapping an extortion threat in a legal cloak.’”
We call it hardball litigation, but no matter. Lefcourt’s point isn’t lost on Bitter Lawyer, where our motto is just say no to DIY, a lesson we learned after reading about Autumn Jackson, who was convicted of blackmailing Bill Cosby in 1997. Jackson claimed Cosby was her dad, and Cosby admitted that he had slept with her mom and paid the woman $100,000 over the years.
Now, that sounds like the start of a pretty good paternity case to us, and if the details are spicy, you can bet the settlement will be rich and quick. But rather than hire a lawyer, Jackson went the DIY-route, which prompted Lefcourt to say of her case recently: “I always felt sorry for that woman. If she’d had a lawyer do the same thing, in legalese, there never would have been a criminal prosecution.” [The New York Times]
Take A Picture, It’ll Last Longer
Blackmail is bad. Child pornography is worse. Combining the two is the best way to find the cellmate of your nightmares.
And guess what, this little gem of a lesson comes from another fellow lawyer. Yep, back in 2007, Missouri trial lawyer Gary Peel tried to halt he and his wife’s divorce by threatening to release a naked photo of his honey’s little sister to his in-laws. Peel had taken the photo a long time ago, when he and his sister-in-law had been having a little affair on the side. The problem? Well, aside from the obvious blackmail issue, the girl in the photo was just 16, which added possession of child pornography to the list of charges leveled at Peel. [ABA Journal]
Are We Taping This?
Okay, so you’ve got a high-profile celebrity like John Travolta in your crosshairs because you hold medical records relating to his son’s death that, if released to the media, could imply that Travolta was somehow responsible. Boy, wouldn’t that maybe subject him to ridicule? Extortion alert!
To execute your plan, do you A) Meet Travolta, and only Travolta, in the place of your choosing to exchange cash for documents; or do you B) take his lawyer up on an offer to discuss the matter in his hotel room?
Hmm, B sounds like a pretty lousy option. But, hey, maybe they don’t watch a lot of political thrillers in the Bahamas, where a paramedic and local politician are on trial for attempting to blackmail Travolta to the tune of $25 million. Fortunately for Travolta, his lawyer got the whole thing on tape. Unfortunately, for the accused extortionists, the judge has ruled the video admissible.
Funny, that’s also how the NYPD nabbed Letterman’s alleged extortionist. The comedian’s lawyer wore a wire. [CNN]
“Attention all extortionists: If you are negotiating with a celebrity’s lawyer, chances are s/he is working with authorities to bring you down.”
And that’s one Lawyer Extortionist Trick that isn’t so stupid.