Nick Lotito & Seth Kirschenbaum

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Federal charges filed in alleged Paula Deen extortion plot

Georgia's own celebrity chef Paula Deen has been under a lot of scrutiny lately for some controversial statements she made which came to light during the course of a lawsuit filed by a former employee of her family's restaurant empire. Companies with which the cook had enjoyed endorsement deals were quick to drop her, lest their public image be damaged by association.

On top of this, a former Georgia resident was arrested recently after allegedly trying to extort $250,000 from Deen, saying that if she didn't pay up, he would reveal more damaging information about her. According to the FBI, the man was arrested and now faces federal charges for extortion and possibly other federal crimes.

Police said the defendant threatened to disclose "true and damning" statements that Deen had made if she did not pay him. Ironically, charges against the man were filed the same day that Deen's past comments came to the public's attention.

Extortion is gaining property by almost any kind of force or threat of violence, property damage, harm to reputation or government action. The definition of robbery is similar, but robbery requires that the threat must pose a risk of imminent physical danger to the victim. In extortion, the threat may be blackmail or some other less tangible damage, and it need not be immediate.

As with many kinds of financial crimes, both Georgia and federal laws may come into play with extortion charges. The prosecution has enormous resources to devote to trying to win a conviction, and a conviction carries serious penalties. It is crucial that those facing charges for extortion or other financial crimes seek the legal help they need in building a defense.

Source: CBS Atlanta, "FBI: Man tried to extort Paula Deen," July 5, 2013

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Nick Lotito & Seth Kirschenbaum

Former Federal Prosecutors

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