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Texas Extortion and Blackmail Laws: How Crime Is Used to Get What You Want

Criminal Law Blog by The Law Office of Greg Tsioros

Texas Extortion and Blackmail Laws: How Crime Is Used to Get What You Want

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In Texas, the concepts concerning blackmail and extortion are similar, but important differences exist between the two. Blackmail happens when an individual threatens to reveal or expose information about the victim or his or her family that’s potentially humiliating, incriminating, or socially destructive unless a demand for services, property, or money is involved.

Regardless of whether the information is accurate or incriminating, it’s possible to be charged with blackmail if you threaten to expose someone else unless they meet your specific demands.

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Extortion is considered a type of theft in Texas. The offender coercively demands something of value from another person. Coercion is necessary to prove extortion. To provide this necessary element, the alleged offender can threaten to perform a violent act, destroy property, or initiate an inappropriate government action. If the accused withholds testimony or refuses to act when he or she is called to testify, these actions also constitute coercion.

How Blackmail Differs from Similar Crimes Like Extortion

Extortion and blackmail both involve the alleged offender’s practices of getting something of value from a victim by use of threats:

Extort, from the Latin word exrortionem (twisting out), means the actor obtains something of value from another party by forcibly or wrongfully using power or authority.

For instance, a former police officer was charged with extortion because he was accused of submitting a false police report to protected allegedly stolen goods in exchange for several payments.

Blackmail originates from the concept of money paid by farmers in Scotland to their clan chiefs. Think of “The Godfather” movie: business owners in an area were forced to pay mobsters protection money to leave them alone. The word derives from male, in Middle English (tribute or rent). Earlier, mal was a word used to indicate an agreement, lawsuit, bargain, or terms. Black is associated with evil.

Our use of blackmail today is different from the concept of extortion because the something of value isn’t demanded by a threat of inflicting bodily injury. Instead, the blackmailer threatens to reveal something that’s thought to be harmful to the victim. For instance, a news producer from CBS blackmailed a late night host, David Letterman, for $2 million. He threatened to reveal Letterman’s affairs with other women.

The blackmail and extortion laws in Texas essentially charge offenders with a theft crime:

Extortion is an act of demanding property or money by threatening property damage, violence, reputational harm, or an onerous government action. The important difference between extortion-blackmail and robbery is that the victim isn’t threatened with immediate or dangerous physical consequences. That’s because the actor’s conduct is an implied threat of sorts. Something could happen to the victim if the future if the victim doesn’t meet the extortionist-blackmailer’s demands.

Bribery is a similar crime as well. If the offender accepts or offers money, property, or services of value to a public employee or official in exchange for his or her influence, it’s possible to be charged with a bribery charge and/or charges under the racketeering laws.

Immediate danger, such as if the actor uses or exhibits a dangerous weapon, increases the threat to the victim. Even if the actor points a toy gun at the victim, it becomes a crime of extortion instead of blackmail.

An individual can be charged with a count of blackmail even if the information you might reveal is true or incriminating. In blackmail, the offender threatens to reveal the information to the public, a group of friends, an employer, and so on, unless the victim provides the demand. In the final analysis, it doesn’t really matter if you’re charged with blackmail or extortion. Either charge is serious. You must engage a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer right away.

Texas Penalties for Blackmail and Extortion

If convicted of blackmail and/or extortion in Texas, the severity of the defendant’s punishment is determined by the value of the money, goods, or services he or she received from the victim. Threats used to commit the crime can affect the severity level. Penalties include:

  • If the value is less than $50, the defendant is guilty of a Class C misdemeanor. The penalties involve a fine of up to $500. He or she won’t do jail time.
  • In comparison, if the defendant received money, goods, or services valued at $200,000 or more, he or she is guilty of a first-degree felony. In this case, he or she faces a minimum five-year to a maximum 99-year prison sentence plus a maximum fine of $10,000.
  • Prison sentences for blackmail and extortion are often quite severe. The offender is likely to receive an average 15-year prison sentence for each count of attempted or actual blackmail.

The court considers:

  • The manner in which the offender delivered threats along with specifics about the victim.
  • If he or she is young, disabled, or elderly, or an employee of the government, the offender is likely to face higher penalties.
  • The perpetrator’s intent, the amount of fear he or she instilled in the victim, the actual threat made to the victim, and the property involved are also factors.

Texas’ state of limitations for a blackmail or extortion crime is five years. The state must, therefore, bring charges and take the case to court within a five-year period. In some situations, the statute may be tolled or suspended. For example, if the accused is already serving a prison sentence on another charge or if he or she lives out of state, the Texas statute of limitations might not apply.

Common Defenses against Blackmail and Extortion Charges

Crimes of blackmail, extortion, bribery, and ransom are typically viewed as felony crimes in Texas. The prosecutor must offer significant evidence to convict the accused defendant. For that reason, a person on trial for blackmail or extortion may use common defenses in a criminal trial, including:

  • Insufficient evidence to convict
  • Proof of factual innocence
  • Proof of intoxication, incapacity, or insanity
  • Absence of intention to commit a crime
  • Proof that the accuser owned the property in question
  • Proof that the accuser didn’t use threat, fear, or force to induce consent

Since blackmail and related crimes are crimes of intention, the prosecutor must show the proof of intention. If the prosecutor fails to prove, this is a defense to the charge of blackmail and extortion.

The accused may also demonstrate that he or she lacked to make threats. The charge of blackmail may be dismissed due to a lack of evidence.

An experienced defense attorney may also consider an insanity plea as a defense in a charge of blackmail. Because blackmail must be an intended crime, the prosecutor must prove the accused had the capacity to commit the offence. When the accused proves his or her incapacitation, this is another defense in a charge of blackmail or extortion.

Other defenses to blackmail may include challenges to the ways in which police and investigators collected evidence. It may be possible to plead coercion, illegal search, interrogation, or seizure.

Blackmail and Extortion Cases in the News

Blackmail and extortion cases, like most criminal cases, are often complex. Here’s an assortment of recent blackmail cases in the news.

  • A Houston man was convicted of several counts of extortion. Prosecutors proved the man attempted to extort $4 million from his victim, an educator. The FBI was involved in the case and, during a sting operation; the offender agreed to accept money and was arrested when he picked up the cash.
  • A police offer pleaded guilty to extortion when he admitted to accepting $500 in exchange for keeping mum about a drug charge. He was also charged with theft of honest services and wire fraud. Court watchers say the case is an example of the complexities involved in many blackmail and extortion case. Although a case like this one typically involves a significant prison term, the police officer received a mixed sentence that includes length community supervision instead.
  • A former Texan was charged with extortion. He threatened to destroy one of his client’s online credibility. The accused is a Romanian national who was extradited to the U.S. to face charges. The case reflects the importance of maintaining a credible online reputation and the alleged accuser’s willingness to use the Internet to commit fraudulent activity.
  • A Houston woman is alleged to have recorded a male friend having sexual contact with a minor girl. The prosecutor says the woman intended to blackmail the man if and when he wanted to leave her. Multiple charges, including aggravated sexual assault involving a child, possession of intent to promote child pornography, trafficking of a child, and compelling prostitution of a minor were made against her. The complaint alleges that the accused offered a 15-year-old minor $200 if the girl would have sex with her boyfriend, a 37-year-old man. The minor was provided with marijuana and “Mad Dog 20/20” alcohol. She was incapacitated when the man arrived to have sex with her. He gave her a drink that caused temporary paralysis, according to court documents.Although the girl said she wasn’t ready to have sex, the man proceeding to penetrate her several times as the defendant secretly recorded the assaults. The girl missed a week of school. With a search warrant, investigators found proof of the arranged meeting between the man and the girl. The defendant and her boyfriend discussed the meeting, calling it the man’s “special treat.” Two videos of the sexual assaults were also retrieved. The defendant allegedly also threatened to tell the man’s wife about the extra-marital relationship with her. The defendant’s boyfriend is also charged with sexual assault. Bail was set for the defendant at $30,000 per each charge.

Blackmail and Extortion Crimes in Houston and Harris County

If you’re searching for information because you or someone you care about has been charged with blackmail or extortion, contact The Law Office of Greg Tsioros to schedule an initial case review. Mr. Tsioros, a former prosecutor in the Harris County District Attorney’s office, has the experience you need when facing serious criminal charges.

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