Prospective clients regularly contact our firm asking for our help with the following scenario, one we categorize as extortion by threat of Internet defamation. A former customer, client, girlfriend, boyfriend, family member, spouse, independent contractor, employee, business partner, or business competitor threatened them several times to publish defamatory statements or pictures about them or their businesses online unless they pay money or hand over some form of property.
These prospective clients ask us what they can do to prevent the defamatory statements or pictures from being published online. Sometimes they ask us what can be done to get the defamatory statements or pictures removed from the Internet after the extortionists published them.
Federal and state laws prohibit extortion and patterns of racketeering activity based on repeated extortion. Multiple acts of criminal extortion violate criminal racketeering laws. Victims of repeated criminal extortion and patterns of racketeering activity may be able sue the perpetrators who harmed them in civil courts. Courts have the authority to order someone to stop violating federal and state extortion laws. They also have the authority to adjudicate claims for damages resulting from repeated violations of federal and state extortion laws that amount to patterns of racketeering activity. Civil lawsuits filed to recover damages for violations of federal or state racketeering laws are often called Civil RICO lawsuits.
The lawful way to obtain money or property from a person or business who owes a lawful debt, a refund, or a form of personal or real property is to take them to court. Threatening to harm someone’s reputation or their business’s reputation online unless they pay money or hand over the property can be criminal extortion. Violating federal or state criminal extortion laws while trying to pressure a person or business to give money or property can violate racketeering laws. Violations of racketeering laws can entitle victims to private causes of action. These private causes of action can entitle victims who win civil racketeering lawsuits to recover their attorneys’ fees, their legal costs, and triple their damages.
If (1) you live in Arizona or Colorado, (2) someone has made several threats to publish defamatory statements or pictures about you or your business online, and (3) they demanded that you pay them money to prevent them from defaming you online, you may have a viable civil racketeering (aka Civil RICO) claim under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (18 U.S.C. §§ 1961 et seq); the Arizona Organized Crime, Fraud and Terrorism Act (A.R.S. §§ 13-2301 et seq); or the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act (C.R.S. §§ 18-17-101 et seq).
By Ed Hopkins, HopkinsWay PLLC. | © HopkinsWay PLLC 2015. All rights reserved.