Sekhar v. United States

Facts of the Case

Investments for the employee pension fund of the State of New York and its local governments were chosen by the fund’s sole trustee, the State Comptroller. After the Comptroller’s general counsel recommended against investing in a fund managed by FA Technology Ventures, the general counsel received anonymous e-mails demanding that he recommend the investment and threatening, if he did not, to disclose information about the general counsel’s alleged affair to his wife, government officials, and the media. Some of the e-mails were traced to the home computer of petitioner Sekhar, a managing partner of FA Technology Ventures. Petitioner was convicted of attempted extortion, in violation of the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. §1951(a), which defined “extortion” to mean “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,” §1951(b)(2). The jury specified that the property petitioner attempted to extort was the general counsel’s recommendation to approve the investment. The Second Circuit affirmed. Petitioner challenged the decision.

Question

Is the recommendation of an attorney, who is a salaried employee of a governmental agency, intangible property that can be the subject of an extortion attempt under the Hobbs Act?

CONCLUSION

No. Justice Antonin Scalia delivered the opinion for the 9-0 majority. The Court held that attempting to compel a person to issue a favorable recommendation does not amount to extortion under the Hobbs Act. The Court determined that the right of the General Counsel to issue a professional recommendation is not transferrable, and therefore lacks an essential characteristic of extorted property.Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. wrote an opinion concurring in the judgment in which he argued that the key question was whether the General Counsel’s recommendation constituted property. As internal recommendations are not property, the issue of transferability became irrelevant. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined the concurrence in the judgment.

Case Information

  • Citation: 570 US 729 (2013)
  • Granted: Jan 11, 2013
  • Argued: Apr 23, 2013
  • Decided Jun 26, 2013