Criminal Law, Pages 432–436

United States v. Villalobos

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 2014

Facts:

Rabbi Yemeni ran a business kelping Israelis fraudulently getting visas by claiming they were working for him. He would pay a wage to these people and they were then to return it. Orit was one such a person. When Rabbi Yemeni terminated her, her husband Avi engaged defendant, a lawyer, to recoup the money paid to Rabbi Yemeni.

Defendant learned the government wanted to interview Orit in its investigation of Rabbi Yemeni. Defendant then approached Rabbi Yemeni and his lawyer and demanded payment, promising that Orit would do "whatever it is we need her to do," including impeding the investigation, lying to the investigator, and repeating the lies to the grand jury. Rabbi Yemeni's lawyer contacted the FBI, who eventually arrested defendant for attempted extortion and endeavoring to obstruct justice.

Procedural History:

Defendant was convicted of both charges after a jury instruction that a threat was wrongful if it was intended to induce or take advantage of fear.

Rule:

LexisNexis IconWestLaw LogoGoogle Scholar LogoPage 433

Extortion is defined in the Hobbs Act as "the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right."

Issue:

Was defendant's conduct wrongful?

Defendant's Argument:

Because defendant had a legal right to the money his conduct was not wrongful.

Reasoning:

A means can be inherently wrongful regardless of the ends it is intending to achieve. Here, defendant's means were his treats to have Orit cooperate with the investigation of Rabbi Yemeni, and his end were the money, fraudulent tax receipts, and a job for Orit.

The jury instructions were erroneous, as inducing fear is the whole point of a threat. However, defendant's actions were evidenced to be unlawful by the jury's conviction of obstruction of justice. As these were unlawful, they were wrongful and sufficient to sustain defendant's extortion conviction.

Holding:

Yes, defendant's conduct was wrongful. Affirmed.

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