Hobbs Act: Extortion, Robbery, Public Corruption Cases in New York

The Hobbs Act, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 1951, punishes robberies and extortionate acts that affect interstate or foreign commerce in some de minimis fashion. While the statute was enacted in 1946 to combat racketeering – specifically with regard to labor disputes – it is now frequently used in connection with public corruption cases, as well as more basic robbery conspiracies and extortions.

Specifically, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1951, whoever commits or conspires to commit a robbery or extortion in any manner that affects commerce shall be punished by up to 20 years imprisonment and a fine. As defined by § 1951(b), robbery means any unlawful taking of property from anotheragainst his or her will by use of actual or threatened force, violence or fear, and extortion means any taking of property from another with his or her consent by use of actual or threatened force, violence or fear. Further, “[t]he fear requirement,” expands the scope of the statute beyond just threats of physical force, and “may be satisfied by a fear of economic loss.” United States v. Capo, 817 F.2d 947, 951 (2d Cir. 1987).

In its most basic form, the government must prove three elements beyond a reasonable doubt in order to secure a conviction under the Hobbs Act: first, that the defendant took, or conspired to take property from another person or entity; second, that the defendant acted willingly; and third, as a result of such, interstate commerce was obstructed, delayed or affected. While the third factor “transforms the quintessential state crimes of robbery and extortion into federal crimes,” (United States v. Perrotta, 313 F.3d 33, 37 (2d Cir. 2002)), “it may be satisfied by a showing of a very slight effect on interstate commerce. Even a potential or subtle effect will suffice.” United States v. Angelilli, 660 F.2d 23, 35 (2d Cir. 1981).

In addition to Hobbs Act charges premised on actual or attempted robberies, or extortions based on threats of force, the government may prosecute a case under the ‘color of official right’ theory of liability. Pursuant to this theory, the government may secure a conviction where it proves beyond a reasonable doubt that a public official or employee has used the power and authority of his office in order to obtain money, property or something of value to which that person has no official right. The government can therefore use this theory in public corruption cases where they allege that a civil servant induced or accepted a payment or bribe in exchange for making, withholding or influencing an official act.

Hiring skilled New York federal criminal defense attorneys to defend you in any federal prosecution is crucial and will ensure that every viable defense is explored and utilized on your behalf. Lawyers at the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman have successfully handled countless cases charging Hobbs Act violations, exploiting holes in the prosecution’s evidence to achieve the best possible result for our clients. Contact us today at (212) 581-1001 for a free consultation.

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