According to a press release released last Friday by the Department of Justice (DOJ), Virginia attorneys Timothy Litzenburg and Daniel Kincheloe were sentenced on federal extortion charges by Western District of Virginia Judge Norman K. Moon. The defendant attorneys admitted to threatening an unnamed multinational chemical company by telling it that they would “inflict substantial financial and reputational harm on the company if their demands for a $200 million payment disguised as a purported ‘consulting agreement’ were not met.”
The United States Postal Inspection Service-led investigation revealed that the two lawyers, starting in October 2019, approached the anonymous company and threatened to go public with information that could cause it to suffer “significant civil liability for manufacturing a purportedly harmful chemical used in a common household product used to kill weeds,” according to the DOJ’s statement. To buy their silence, the attorneys asked for $200 million. They then set up a Virginia corporation to receive the funds, and agreed to share the ill-gotten proceeds amongst themselves and their associates, but not with existing clients.
Litzenburg and Kincheloe admitted to launching a barrage of threats at the anonymous company, including that if they released their damaging information or filed suit against it, the company’s stock price would tank, it would suffer reputational harm, and resultant liability could pose an “existential threat.” While the press release declined to mention the company, reports at the time of the attorneys’ guilty plea indicated that a supplier to Monsanto, manufacturer of Roundup, was the target of the plot.
The press release also made light of an admission by Litzenburg that in exchange for the payment sought, he told the anonymous company that he would not discuss it or its corporate parent with current clients. He also admitted to telling the anonymous company that he would be willing to intentionally botch a toxicology expert deposition to deter possible future claims against the company, according to the DOJ.
Both defendants pled guilty to transmitting interstate communications with the intent to extort. Litzenburg was sentenced to 24 months in prison and a year of supervised release, while Kincheloe received a sentence of half that duration, also followed by a year of supervised release.
Attorneys from the DOJ’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.