Extortion is one of those crimes that happen every day in a myriad of different ways. Essentially, extortion is when one individual coerces another individual to do something “or else”. Well, anyone who has ever had a job knows that their boss says, “do your work or else you get fired.” The government says, “pay your taxes or else you go to prison.” Politicians threaten to release compromising information or else. Blackmail and extortion are so ubiquitous in our culture, that it isn’t entirely clear where the crime of extortion begins and everyday circumstances end.
The being said, extortion is a crime. According to Florida law, the crime of extortion is defined by Florida criminal statute 836.05. According to the statute, extortion happens when one individual attempts to leverage another individual by:
- Maliciously accusing them of a crime,
- Threatening physical or bodily injury to them or their family,
- Threatening their property or their reputation,
- Exposing them to disgrace or revealing secret information,
- Imputing deformity,
- Imputing lack of chastity.
But there is a second part to the law and it concerns the reasons why the individual is threatening. The aforementioned only constitute extortion when the individual who is doing the threatening hopes to:
- Compel the threatened individual to do something,
- Compel the threatened individual not to do something.
Who Did What to Who and Why?
The majority of criminal cases boil down to this question. The prosecution’s job is to answer it in the simplest possible terms, while the defense attorney’s job is to complicate it.
In this case, we have one high-powered realtor accusing another of extortion. Jill Hertzberg of the famous “Jills” is accusing rival high-powered real estate agent, Kevin Tomlinson, of threatening to reveal sensitive information about Hertzberg and “ruining her career”. Hertzberg’s company had been caught fiddling with real estate listings which is something that they are being sued for in a class action by other real estate companies which includes Tomlinson.
His lawyers are arguing this was merely a negotiating tactic in the pending civil lawsuit and that Tomlinson did nothing wrong by threatening her and her real estate company. In fact, they were the ones who had done something wrong. Tomlinson merely threatened to go to Wall Street Journal with the information.
Tomlinson is being charged with two counts of extortion. In 2015, he filed a complaint with the Miami Association of Realtors alleging that the Jills had been manipulating a database only accessible to realtors and brokers to hide information concerning properties that had been listed for extended periods of time. This gave the appearance that the Jills’ success in moving properties was better than it actually was. It also makes it more difficult for brokers to offer their services to properties that the Jills were having difficulty moving.
The Jills accused Tomlinson of demanding $250,000 from each Jill to make it go away. But the Jills were unmoved by Tomlinson’s threats. They called the police and began recording his phone calls. The jury can clearly hear Tomlinson demanding money.
But herein lies the rub. Tomlinson is claiming that he consistently referred to the money as a “legal settlement” and was merely negotiating on his own behalf for a pending lawsuit.
Is it extortion or negotiating for a legal settlement?
Is there any real difference?
Scott Skier Represents Criminal Defendants in West Palm Beach
If you’ve been charged with a crime, the criminal defense attorneys of Skier Law Firm, P.A. can ensure that you get a good defense and a fair trial. We have tried white collar cases, routine DUIs, and high profile murder cases. Give us a call at (561) 220-3355 or contact us online, and we can begin preparing your defense immediately.