Wealthy executives, sports stars, and Hollywood celebrities are increasingly turning to lawyers to help them battle “sextortion” plots in which young women with whom they’ve had sex blackmail them for tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for their silence.
High-powered attorneys in New York and Los Angeles told Insider that their ultra-rich clientele have been retaining their services more frequently in recent years in response to these attempted shakedowns.
“There’s been a significant increase over the last 20 years, but in the last five or six years it seems to have exploded,” says celebrity lawyer Blair Berk of the Los Angeles-based firm Tarlow & Berk, PC.
“Typically it’s clear there’s been no wrongdoing [by the man with money]. “It’s a clear red flag when part of the extortion is the threat to go to law enforcement, but they say they’ve chosen not to.”
Jeremy Saland, a former Manhattan prosecutor, told Insider that he recently represented a young New York-based CEO who recently met a woman on the “sugar-daddy” site Seeking Arrangements.
The CEO had spent some $40,000 showering the young woman, who assured him that she was of legal age when they met, with gifts.
After they broke up, however, she revealed that she was, in fact, under age and threatened to name the man on her social media accounts.
“I’m going to blow up you and your business,” she texted him.
The young woman threatened to go public unless the CEO, who didn’t even know the woman’s real name, paid up.
“If you can’t get me money, I’m going to f–k up your whole company,” the woman texted him.
Saland told Insider that this is becoming all too common.
“It’s always the same thing: ‘Pay me, or I’m going to blow up you, or your marriage, or your business’,” Saland said.
He added: “It’s always, always a crime.”
The CEO paid Saland and his partner, private investigator and ex-NYPD detective Herman Weisberg, tens of thousands of dollars to gather information on the woman and “turn the tables” by surveilling her, gathering incriminating evidence, and issuing a cease-and-desist letter.
Saland and Weisberg discovered that the young woman was suffering from drug addiction and was living with a man she called her “manager.” They threatened to call the police on her and the “manager”, which prompted them to back down from their “sextortion” plot.
According to attorneys and investigators who spoke to Insider, those who are targeted by blackmail are willing to pay top dollar to make the headache go away. In order to keep their names out of the press, they are loathe to go to the police.
While these kinds of cases create a lot of angst for wealthy men, they have spawned a cottage industry for lawyers who are hired to defuse a ticking time bomb.
Shawn Holley, a Los Angeles-based lawyer at the firm Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump Holley LLP, said that her clients are often asked to pony up seven-figure payouts.
“These are cases where I send my investigator out, and the accusation is not real — it’s a shakedown,” Holley, whose clientele includes the likes of Kim Kardashian, Lindsey Lohan, and Snoop Dogg, told Insider.
She said the best-case scenario is to negotiate an out-of-court settlement in the low five-figures.
According to Holley, occasionally her celebrity client will want to fight back, but agents, handlers, and managers talk them out of it due to fears that it would irreparably harm their reputation.
“I tell them, ‘It’s the cost of being you’,” Holley said.
Lawyers say that while Los Angeles-based targets tend to be known celebrities, the Manhattan-based victims are most likely among the tens of thousands of executives whose names are unknown to the general public.