Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos said Thursday that he was the target of an extortion and blackmail effort by the National Enquirer, which he accused of threatening to publish intimate pictures of him unless he backed off an investigation of the tabloid.
Bezos said the Enquirer and its parent company, American Media Inc., made the threat after he began investigating how the tabloid obtained text messages that revealed his relationship with a former TV anchor.
Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, wrote that the Enquirer wanted him to make a false public statement that he and his security consultant “have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”
Bezos declined to do so.
Instead, he published what he said were emails from Enquirer executives to a lawyer representing his security consultant. In one, a top Enquirer editor appears to suggest that the tabloid would publish a series of photos of Bezos and the TV anchor, some of them salacious, if AMI’s terms weren’t met.
The story spilled into public on Jan. 9 when Bezos and his wife revealed they would be divorcing after 25 years of marriage – roughly two days after the Enquirer had informed him it would be publishing a story about his relationship with the former TV anchor. The Enquirer later published what it called “sleazy text messages and gushing love notes” between Bezos and the former TV anchor, raising questions about how the tabloid was able to get such intimate material.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan did not immediately comment on Bezos’ assertion that AMI had committed extortion.
It will certainly be interesting to see how this case unfolds and if, in fact, the National Enquirer committed sextortion. Extortion is defined as the use of non-physical force or threats to persuade another person to do something for you. With the growth of the Internet, extortion has been taken to the extreme, bringing us to sextortion or the use of sexual exploitation/blackmail to compel someone to do something for you.
Extortion/sextortion crimes can be charged as state or federal offenses and involve some type of bribery, blackmail, coercion or demands. This crime is a second-degree felony in Florida, carrying potential consequences of up to 15 years in prison.