Remember the Jarec Wentworth extortion case? It involved a gay porn performer and sex worker who went to jail for blackmailing some telecom millionaire named Donald Burns for $500,000 cash and an Audi R8 car worth $180,000. Burns had porn star orgies at his place and Wentworth threatened to reveal them on social media unless Burns coughed up an additional $1,000,000. After being convicted, Wentworth (whose birth name is Teofil Brank) claimed Burns had raped him and offered up money and gifts as an apology. Teofil tried to have his conviction overturned by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but the Court just denied his appeal, so Brank will have to serve his entire six year prison sentence.
In appealing the Jarec Wentworth extortion case, Brank’s lawyer argued that his conviction wasn’t justified by the evidence because Burns willingly offered the car and cash to get Brank to remove a tweet vaguely referring to the closeted millionaire. Thus, the lawyer argued, “fear of injury to [Burns’] reputation” wasn’t enough to support the government’s extortion charge as defined under something called the Hobbs Act, an act which says “only fear of physical violence or economic harm establish extortion under the federal law.”
Furthermore, Brank’s lawyer said the prosecution allowed testimony about a gun Brank had during his arrest even though Brank faced no charges for firearm possession. The lawyer further alleged that federal prosecutors “vindictively filed six additional counts” against Brank because Brank demanded a speedy trial.
In short, the panel at the Appeals court decided that “fear of injury to reputation” and accepting cash for removing a tweet threatening to expose someone’s private sexual life does represent a threat of “economic harm,” and thus extortion. They also said that the gun testimony and demands for a speedy trial didn’t affect the trial’s outcome.
Brank will be in his early 30s when he gets out of jail. He could always go back into sex work, but we assume clients may be reluctant to work with someone convicted of blackmailing clients.
Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to Burns as “closeted.” Burns wrote our publication and said, “I have been an openly gay person for more than 30 years. My decades long participation in the LGBTQ community and my active support of LGBTQ organizations and legislative initiatives demonstrate my commitment to be an openly gay person.”