Local news

Extortion threat not protected, judges declare

FRIDAY, MARCH 16, 2012

Ex-inmate convicted in plot against jailer

A woman lost her appeal Thursday of a 2010 conviction for trying to extort money from a Spokane County corrections deputy to keep quiet a relationship that eventually cost him his job.

Stephanie A. Strong, 30, was sentenced in December 2010 to 4 1/2 years in prison after a jury found her guilty of second-degree extortion. She and her boyfriend at the time, Douglas R. Mobley, had tried to persuade former corrections deputy Velven “Jack” York to pay $5,000 to save his job.

In the end, York was placed on paid leave for two weeks, then resigned on July 16, 2010, before Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich could fire him.

Strong had been an inmate in the Spokane County Jail and began a relationship with York, according to court records. After she was released, York drove Strong between her counseling sessions and a halfway house for federal convicts. He even bought her dinner. York later paid off several of Strong’s fines, totaling more than $2,000.

“Although both testified that their relationship never became romantic, they both knew that Mr. York’s conduct violated county policy, which strictly forbade corrections officers from fraternizing with current or former inmates,” court records state.

On June 27, 2010, Mobley called York and demanded $5,000 or he would alert county officials to his relationship with Strong. Mobley directed York to leave the money in a Dick’s Hamburgers bag next to a trash bin. But York had alerted sheriff’s officials about the situation and several officers were waiting when Mobley picked up the bag.

Strong appealed her conviction on the grounds that “threatening to disclose only truthful information and not a ‘true threat’ within the meaning of the First Amendment … is constitutionally protected.”

But the appellate judges didn’t bite.

“The evidence at Ms. Strong’s trial was undisputed that Mr. Mobley threatened to disclose Mr. York’s career-ending violations of the county’s fraternization policy unless he was paid the $5,000 he demanded,” wrote Judge Laurel Siddoway. “On this evidence, Ms. Strong’s conviction as an accessory does not punish speech protected by the First Amendment.”

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