Guilty plea for extortion

Published 9:43 pm Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A Suffolk man whose trial on an extortion charge was set to take place Friday has pleaded guilty.

Frank Small pleaded guilty to the extortion charge after that charge ended in a hung jury in July, and prosecutors had re-filed the charges. The same jury found him guilty of robbery.

According to prosecutor Susan Walton, Small’s robbery of the 82-year-old victim began when Small pulled up to his house and offered filler for some holes in the man’s driveway.

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They agreed on a price — $3 a yard — and Small left to retrieve the material.

But when he returned, he had other men with them, and they were armed with shovels. Small demanded $8,100 for the entire truckload of material.

“He had a threat made (to the effect of) the kids would find him in the backyard,” Walton said at the Sept. 25 sentencing hearing for the robbery charge. “The fact that the individual knew he had children increased his fear.”

The victim drove to his bank, with Small and the other men following him, withdrew the money from his account and gave it to Small, Walton said.

“He figured when he gave the money up, they would go away,” she said.

Small’s attorney, Jack Randall, argued for the extortion verdict to be set aside.

“There was no contemporaneous threat with the taking,” he said. “That is just too far of a stretch, figuratively and literally.”

Judge L. Wayne Farmer denied the motion, saying a robbery doesn’t necessarily involve a weapon and a taking of property right then and there.

“Just because it doesn’t follow that format doesn’t mean there was no robbery,” he said. “There was absolutely a causal connection between the actions of the defendant and the release of those funds.”

Randall also said the jury’s knowledge that the victim’s wife had recently died was “harmful and prejudicial to my client.”

During the September sentencing hearing, Small’s wife took the stand and told of the couple’s money troubles.

The defense suggested that Small’s wife could pay part of the restitution that day, but only if Small’s sentence could be reduced.

Farmer called the suggestion “offensive” from the bench, leaning to look at Small’s wife in the gallery as he did so. “Mr. Small is a thief, and an unrepentant one as far as I’m concerned.”

Farmer sentenced Small to five years on the robbery. Small’s sentence on the extortion charge, after he pleaded guilty, was four years.

Walton said prosecutors agreed to run the sentences at the same time if Small paid restitution, and he has already done so.