A years-long feud that had all the "Miami Beach" qualities of fancy mansions, large sums of money, and lots of drama ended recently with one man facing up to 30 years in prison for extortion. The drawn-out saga between real estate brokers, "The Jills" and rival broker Kevin Tomilson captured the attention of many in South Florida, when the details were revealed in a public court battle.
Kevin Tomilson was arrested and accused of extortion of Jill Hertzberg and Jill Eber after he found out that they had been manipulating their listing on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) website for real estate agents and brokers, and then began demanding they give him money to keep quiet. According to what he discovered, the Jills were manipulating home data and hiding properties that had been on the market for more than six months to make their sales record look better and to keep other brokers from pursuing their listings that had expired.
Tomilson made a complaint to the Miami Association of Realtors in April of 2015 but then decided to take things into his own hands by demanding that the Jills each pay him $400,000 for a total of $800,000 to make his complaint disappear.
The Jills had contacted police after his initial demand of $250,000 each. Miami Beach detectives had been secretly recording conversations and interactions between Tomilson and the women. When they presented him with a check for $400,000 to make his threat go away, he demanded double and was subsequently arrested.
After a week-long trial, a Miami jury convicted Tomilson of two counts of extortion, which is a felony. The conviction means he faces up to 30 years in prison, although he is unlikely to receive the maximum punishment for a first-time felony conviction. The judge in the case ordered that he be jailed until his sentencing later this summer.
WHAT QUALIFIES AS EXTORTION IN FLORIDA
Extortion, also known as blackmail, is a second-degree felony in the state of Florida. This crime is defined as a threat made to someone to take money or property or to compel someone to act or not act. To be a crime, the threat must be enough to overcome the victim's free will and to convict someone of this crime, a prosecutor must establish that the defendant is guilty of all elements of the crime of extortion beyond a reasonable doubt.
PROSECUTORS MUST PROVE SEVERAL FACTORS IN EXTORTION ACCUSATION CASES
- A verbal or written threat occurred
- The defendant may have implied physical harm, psychological harm, or death to the victim or someone else
- The defendant may have threatened to reveal a secret, accuse the victim of a crime, or harm the reputation of the victim
- The defendant may have threatened to do a lawful or unlawful act
- Intent to gain financially, receive property, or compel the victim to do something against his or her will must be proven. However, intent to carry out that that threat does not have to be proven.
POTENTIAL DEFENSES IN EXTORTION CASES
In the case of Kevin Tomilson and the Jills, the defense argued that Tomilson was simply seeking to settle a potential lawsuit outside of the courts, nothing more. However, the jury did not accept this defense.
Other potential defenses for extortion cases may include the fact that the threat was made in self-defense or in defense of another person or property, or that the threat was an idle threat and was never intended to reach the victim.
In the event that someone is accused of extortion, it's important that they immediately contact an experienced defense attorney. Extortion is a serious crime that will require a well-prepared defense.
Florida Extortion Laws. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://statelaws.findlaw.com/florida-law/florida-extortion-laws.html
Ovalle, D. (n.d.). Realtor guilty of extorting 'The Jills,' his rivals in Miami Beach's luxury realty market. Retrieved from https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/crime/article213617024.html