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The Hobbs Act defines "extortion" 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, pursuant to 18 U.S.C.S. § 1951(b)(2). Thus, the statute supports two classes of extortion: extortion induced by "wrongful use of force" and extortion "under color of official right. In order to prove Hobbs Act extortion "under color of official right," the Government need only show that a public official has obtained a payment to which he was not entitled, knowing that the payment was made in return for official acts. In other words, the government need not prove that the public official induced the making of the payment, or that the public official acted or refrained from acting as a result of payments made.
Defendants were employed by a division of the City of Philadelphia and were convicted of improperly accepting payments from plumbers whose work they inspected, a violation of the Hobbs Act and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Defendants appealed, arguing that they were properly accepting “tips.” Defendant further challenged the District Court's jury instruction regarding the Hobbs Act's requirement that the covered misconduct have affected commerce.
Under the circumstances, were the defendants properly convicted of improperly accepting payments from plumbers whose work they inspected?
The court affirmed the judgments of conviction. There was ample evidence at trial that plumbers paid defendants in order to ensure timely and favorable inspections and to prevent unfavorable treatment or harassment by defendants. The government presented substantial evidence demonstrating that defendants knew that it was improper to accept monetary payments, thus undermining defendants' view that they were properly accepting "tips." The court's precedent supported the use of "potential" effect and its formulation of the depletion of assets theory in the jury instructions for the Hobbs Act violation. The government's evidence was more than sufficient to support a finding of extortion "under color of official right."