Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Getting Caught Lending Money to a Friend to Cover an Illegal Gambling Debt

You’re not a bad guy. And you are very non-violent. You are against the war. You donate to "Save the whales." You are a daily communicant. And you like to hire independent contractors. You know a guy. He has a reputation for being one of "those guys". And you ask him to go collect a debt. But you specifically instruct him not to threaten any force, or use any force. "That guy" goes to collect the debt. And he doesn’t threaten the deadbeat in any way, either verbally, or threw the use of weird signals. Unfortunately, the deadbeat is wearing a body wire and the meeting is on video. The F.B.I. was watching. You are indicted and charged with extortion. Can you be convicted of extortion? Nobody was even threatened. And you, personally, did not even try to collect the debt.
More specifically, if a disputed debt was arbitrated and negotiated by a known mobster, does that amount to the use of extortionate means within the meaning of Title 18 § 894? You hire a federal lawyer. This is not a strong arm robbery case. You need a Philadelphia criminal defense attorney who researches subtleties in the law, and most importantly, who will read the statute which provides:

(a) Whoever knowingly participates in any way, or conspires to do so, in the use of any extortionate means

(1) to collect or attempt to collect any extension of credit,
shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both (18 U.S.C. § 894(a) (1988)).

The term "extortionate means" is defined at 18 U.S.C. § 891(7): An extortionate means is any means which involves the use, or an express or implicit threat of use, of violence or other criminal means to cause harm to the person, reputation, or property of any person.

It looks like it doesn’t matter if you personally did not collect the debt. And it looks like an implied threat is included in the definition of extortionate means. And that is exactly what the Third Circuit ruled in the case below. Unfortunately, one’s reputation is sufficient to imply a threat.

"Thus, the evidence supports the jury's finding that DiSalvo and Simone knowingly participated in the implicit threat of the use of violence to collect the Pelullo loan payments. By soliciting Leonetti and Scarfo to approach the Pelullo brothers regarding collection of the debt, DiSalvo and Simone knew that the presence of Leonetti would invoke an implicit threat of the use of violence since Leonetti's violent character was well known, as established at trial. By DiSalvo and Simone redirecting Pelullo's obligation to Leonetti, the jury could reasonably have concluded that the defendants were utilizing an implied threat of violence to intimidate Pelullo into making payments."

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