Sunday, October 23, 2005

Save Toby Really is Illegal Extortion

The owner of the website at is threatening to kill and eat a rabbit unless visitors donate $50,000. Actually since PayPal closed the account used to collect donations, the threat has changed to "buy 100,000 copies of our book".

Most people would assume that this scheme is extortion and it's illegal. The site operators insist it's not illegal and defend the position by offering the following definition of extortion:

Extortion is a criminal offense, which occurs when a person obtains money, behaviour, or other goods and/or services from another by wrongfully threatening or inflicting harm to his person, reputation, or property.

Note how the definition says, harm to his person, reputation, or property. Since the thug is not threatening anyone's property other than his own, he says he's not breaking any laws. I disagree.

My brief search turned up the following legal definition of extortion:

EXTORTION - The use, or the express or implicit threat of the use, of violence or other criminal means to cause harm to person, reputation, or property as a means to obtain property from someone else with his consent. USC 18

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." 18 U.S.C. S 1951(b)(2).

I found the definition at I'm no lawyer and I'm not going to take the time to verify the definition, but at least cites a real U.S. code and the Hobbs Act while doesn't cite anything. I'm inclined to believe lectlaw.

That said, it seems obvious to me that the definition applies to savetoby. For one thing, the keyword, his, that Toby's executioner leans on, does not actually appear in the Hobbs Act. Furthermore, the simple use of fear as a tactic for extracting money seems to be enough to qualify as an illegal act.

If visitors are giving money because they are afraid that this maniac will actually kill a rabbit if they don't cough up the dough, well, that's extortion by the definition of the law.

Now lets move on to fraud. Again, the author at savetoby insists that no fraud is being committed. However, I have to question that as well. Let's look at the definition from

FRAUD, TO DEFRAUD - The term 'fraud' is generally defined in the law as an intentional misrepresentation of material existing fact made by one person to another with knowledge of its falsity and for the purpose of inducing the other person to act, and upon which the other person relies with resulting injury or damage. [Fraud may also include an omission or intentional failure to state material facts, knowledge of which would be necessary to make other statements not misleading.]

Now let's go back to the definition of extortion at Where did the definition come from? Has the source been intentionally omitted? Where did the word his come from in that definition? Was it added by the author? Is the author aware of any other definition of extortion that does not include his or that casts suspicion on the legality of the scheme?

If the author edited the definition, or carefully chose the definition, or later became aware of a more precise legal definition and failed to disclose it because doing so would have discouraged visitors from sending money, well, that's fraud. Afterall, the author must know that nobody would contribute to an illegal act of extortion and the author has attempted to convince the audience that the scheme is not extortion. If the author doesn't actually believe it isn't extortion then he has committed fraud to extract money from visitors.

I believe that the owners of are committing illegal extortion by the definition of the term in the Hobbs Act. Even if I'm wrong on that count, I believe the owners committed fraud by intentionally publishing an inaccurate definition for extortion to mislead their audience into cooperation.

Update: I added this comment to Bob Parson's (GoDaddy) weblog:

Isn't illegal extortion based on this definition from the Hobbs Act, section 1951, "the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear..."?

The code also says, "Whoever ... threatens physical violence to ANY person or property ... shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both."

Notice that this is not the same definition given at which is not a legal definition at all and does not cite a source. The author's key
phrase "harm to HIS person" does not appear in the legal definition. Simply inducing "fear" is enough to qualify as extortion and no threat is allowed
against ANY person or property. This is why I believe savetoby may indeed qualify as extortion.

I say "may" because I don't really know, but this is not the way the information is presented at savetoby. The author puts forth a definition in the "legal" section of the website which we now all know is NOT a legal definition. The author then stands on this definition as cut-and-dry proof that the scheme violates no law. Furthermore, he establishes all this to convince visitors that sending money is the only recourse for saving Toby and to dissuade the public from attempting criminal prosecution.

Either the savetoby owner invented his own definition or he intentionally chose a definition that casts his scheme in a favorable light. Now look up "fraud." One cannot misrepresent or omit facts in a blatant attempt to extract money from the public. The author clearly selected a common definition and presented it as "the law", citing no sources, to dupe visitors into sending money.

One possible safety for the owner (and for Bob) is to claim that they honestly believed they were accurately representing extortion law when they (loudly) persuaded the public that the savetoby scheme was unequivocally legal. Now that the actual legal definition has been brought to their attention (Bob's at least), that safety is gone. We can continue to argue whether savetoby qualifies as extortion but one thing is unavoidable, the website owner MUST change his misleading definition or he is UNDENIABLY committing FRAUD. I would assume, that Bob would not be party to such fraud which does indeed violate the godaddy terms of service.

Bob, I like your service and your radio show. I respect your opinion and your integrity. I believe this is an honest mistake and I think you will correct it. Savetoby may or may not be extortion, but the website is unquestionably fraudulent.