Sunday, November 8, 2009

Extortion: "Under Color of Official Right"

The federal Hobbs Act makes it a federal crime for any government official, including police officers, to extort money from citizens "under color of official right." "Under color of official right" simply means that the police officer, (or other government official), has used his or her badge, or official position, as a means to improperly shake you down and take your money.

As a former federal prosecutor, I prosecuted a wide variety of state and local government officials who improperly used their public offices for private gain. For instance, I once prosecuted a social agency case worker who extorted kickback payments from a foster parent in exchange for getting the foster parent a higher per diem payment for taking care of a special needs foster child. Extortion also occurs when a city licensing inspector demands money from a business owner in exchange for "looking the other way" as to city code violations. The examples are endless. But perhaps the worst kind of extortion cases involve crooked police officers who demand money, sometimes alongside the highway, in order to make traffic tickets disappear.

Have you ever heard of similar examples of extortion committed by public officials? Do you believe such extortion is rare?


  1. Richard, I hate when any public worker can make money from others simply because they have a "legitimate credibility".
    I know some police officers take money, but I didn't know that others with some type of even a minor influence take money as well.
    Let me relate this to you, then you tell me what you think.

    There is an employee at the local veterans office that has found that he can stay under the radar and make extra money off others that want to get out of their court ordered obligations for probation.
    I know of several people that have been ordered to serve community service as part of their probation. This fellow will mark off their service for a small fee.
    On a monthly basis he makes an extra $500, with this practice.
    Maybe I am out of line, but in my thinking he is doing no service to anyone but himself.
    What do you think?

  2. Thanks for the comment, Bob. And anyone who reads my blog should take my advice and make a beeline to your blog, if they enjoy fine writing told in your own inimitable style! As for your question, yes, I agree that any probation officer who uses their position to make money off probationers, and puts that money in their pockets, could be in serious trouble if they get caught. I am aware of a Georgia probation officer who was charging his probationers an "extra" supervision "fee." He was a nice fellow, but he justifiably went to prison! Thanks again, Bob!