Extortion can be committed in person, over the phone, by mail and via text or email. If interstate commerce was used, federal investigations may lead to it being charged as a federal crime. Extortion is considered a theft-related offense in Pennsylvania. Therefore, to be found guilty, the elements of the underlying crime of theft must be met, in addition to the element of coercion or intimidation.
In this state, extortion is defined as the intentional taking or withholding of another’s property by threatening to: commit or accuse another of a criminal offense, expose a secret that would subject the person to hatred contempt or ridicule, use one’s status as an official to take or withhold action, cause a strike or boycott, testify or withhold information in court or inflict other forms of harm, if certain demands are not met. Property includes not only money, but also anything of value, such as real estate and contract rights.
Penalties for extortion in Pennsylvania depend on the value of the property that was extorted. If the property taken was valued at more than $2,000, a defendant may be charged with a third-degree felony. Third-degree felony extortion is punishable by up to seven years imprisonment and a fine up to $15,000. If the property was wrongfully obtained through threat or breach of fiduciary obligation, it will be classified as a misdemeanor of the first-degree, which carries a sentence of up to five years in prison.
Theft by extortion involving property worth less than $2,000 may be charged as a misdemeanor of the second-degree, punishable by up to three years in prison or a misdemeanor of the third-degree, punishable by up to a year in prison. Nonetheless, there are some legal defenses available to those charged with extortion in Pennsylvania, and they will be discussed in a future post.