United States v. Jambulat Tkhilaishvili, et al. (1st Cir. June 2019)
Hobbs Act Extortion – A defendant “obtains” property under the Hobbs Act ‘by bringing about its transfer to a third party, regardless of whether the defendant received a personal benefit from the transfer.” Moreover, “property” under the Hobbs Act includes property that is not profitable at the time, and there is no “heightened showing” requirement on its effect on interstate commerce simply because the victim is a company.
The defendants appealed after being convicted by a jury of conspiring and attempting to commit Hobbs Act extortion and other crimes, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to show a conspiracy or attempt to extort the victim or that their actions affected interstate commerce.
The defendants, two brothers, were convicted after a jury found that they had extorted the sole investor of their suboxone clinic on several occasions, locking him in a room, warning him that they were connected to the Russian mob, and threatening to harm him if he did not cede part of his interest in the clinic to their friend.
Under the Hobbs Act, extortion is defined as “obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear.” The First Circuit rejected the defendants’ argument that the Government had failed to prove that the defendants had “obtained” property from another because the investor’s interest was intended for a friend and not the defendants. The Court cited its recent holding in United States v. Brissette, 919 F.3d 670 (1st Cir. 2019 and reiterated that a defendant “obtains” property under the Hobbs Act ‘by bringing about its transfer to a third party, regardless of whether the defendant received a personal benefit from the transfer.”
The Court also rejected the defendants’ argument that the investor’s interest in the clinic was not “property” under the Hobbs Act because it was not profitable at the time of the attempted extortion and that a “heightened showing” of an effect on interstate commerce is required when the victim is an individual rather than a business. Notwithstanding the fact that the clinic and investor were essentially one victim, the Court explained that its prior references to a “heightened standard” for Hobbs Act crimes directed at individuals “related to the degree of scrutiny, not the quantum of proof,” though it conceded that “a court must be ‘more cautious’ in applying the [de minimis standard] to criminal acts directed at individuals.” Here, there was sufficient evidence to show the attempted extortion of the investor could have depleted the assets of the clinic and therefore affected interstate commerce.
The Court also affirmed the district court’s admission of witness testimony regarding the defendants’ prior violent acts under Rule 404(b) as relevant to the defendants’ intent and the victims’ state of mind and affirmed the embezzlement convictions of one of the defendants for his unauthorized withdrawals from a health benefits program associated with the clinic.
Appeal from the District of Massachusetts
Opinion by Selya, joined by Howard and Torruella