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Can Praise Be Extorted? High Court to Weigh In…

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Supreme Court said it will decide whether it constitutes extortion to coerce a positive review from the general counsel for a state comptroller.

New York prosecutors had informed the general counsel in 2009 about their investigation of a placement agent with FA Technology Ventures. Since the state comptroller was considering investing $35 million from employee pension funds with FA, the news of the investigation caused the general counsel to caution against the investment.

FA stood to make $7.6 million in management fees over 10 years had the investment gone through.

After an FA employee learned about the recommendation, the general counsel received an anonymous email about a "serious ethical issue" to his work account. He later received threatening emails over the FA deal to his personal email account.

The emails warned that the general counsel's wife would learn of her husband's office affair unless he changed his tune about the FA recommendation.

After the general counsel pulled in law enforcement, the FBI tracked the emails to the Brookline, Mass., home of Giridhar Sekhar, an FA Technology managing partner.

Sekhar admitted to having sent the emails and was indicted for attempted extortion and six counts of interstate transmission of extortionate threats.

In a pro se objection, Sekhar argued that extortion charges must involve an attempt to obtain property, and that the "recommendation" or "approval" of counsel does not meet that standard.

A federal judge concluded otherwise, and a jury convicted Sekhar of extortion and five of the six interstate threat counts, earning him 15 months in prison.

The 2nd Circuit affirmed in June 2012.

Per its custom, the Supreme Court did not issue any comment in granting Sekhar a writ of certiorari on Friday.

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