Man confesses extorting former Lingle aide
Rajdatta Patkar admits extortion of former chief of staff Bob Awana for $35,000
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A man from India admitted in federal court yesterday that he extorted $35,000 from Gov. Linda Lingle's former chief of staff, Bob Awana.
Rajdatta Patkar, 46, pleaded guilty to a single extortion charge in a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. A grand jury had indicted him April 27 on five counts of extortion.
U.S. District Judge Michael Seabright scheduled sentencing for Oct. 29.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine and mandatory restitution.
Public federal defender Pamela Byrne said her client agreed to cooperate with authorities in a government investigation, but did not elaborate.
Patkar threatened to reveal contents of unseemly e-mails between Awana and an acquaintance, according to court records. Awana has declined comment on news reports that the extortion involved an alleged affair with a woman in the Philippines.
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A man who admitted to extorting $35,000 from Gov. Linda Lingle's former chief of staff in exchange for not releasing embarrassing e-mails regrets doing it, his attorney said.
Rajdatta Patkar, 46, of India, faces up to two years in federal prison after waiving his right to a trial and pleading guilty yesterday in U.S. District Court to one count of extortion, under a plea agreement.
"Yes, he is sorry, he's remorseful, he feels really humble," said Assistant Federal Defender Pamela Byrne, who declined to discuss her client's motive or specifically what was contained in what the defense has described as "unseemly e-mails."
An April 27 indictment accused Patkar, a computer consultant in Japan, of extortion in five separate e-mails sent to a Hawaii resident identified only by the initials R.A.
The U.S. Attorney's Office and the defense have declined to reveal the identity of R.A., but Bob Awana has confirmed that he is the individual referred to in the indictment. He has declined to comment on news reports that the extortion involved an alleged affair he had with a woman in the Philippines.
Awana, who resigned this month, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Lingle said last night, "I was very glad he was convicted because I don't think anyone should blackmail and extort another person -- especially glad because they did it to a friend of mine, Bob, who was the victim in this case, and I'm glad that the guy was convicted."
Yesterday both the U.S. attorney and the defense remained mum on contents of the five e-mails or the information Patkar threatened to disclose -- information sealed in the case files.
"This is an extortion case. It's not unusual to have information nonpublic, filed under seal," Elliot Enoki, first assistant U.S. attorney, said afterward.
During yesterday's proceedings, U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright emphasized that the law and the court recognizes that R.A. "is the victim in this offense."
Byrne said this has been a difficult time for Patkar, who has been in federal custody since he was extradited in March. But the deal is fair and the government has treated him fairly, she said. Because he is not a U.S. citizen, Patkar faces deportation because of his conviction.
In exchange for Patkar's guilty plea, the government will dismiss the remaining four counts at sentencing and will not charge him with any additional offenses, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Johnson.
In the plea agreement, Patkar admitted to sending a series of e-mails from Japan to R.A., who lived in Hawaii.
In the e-mails, Patkar noted that he had obtained access to a Yahoo! e-mail account belonging to an acquaintance of R.A. and had obtained personal information about R.A. that, if disclosed, would jeopardize R.A.'s "professional reputation, social standing and personal relationships."
Patkar did receive a $35,000 payment as a result of the threat. As part of the agreement, Patkar has agreed to reimburse the FBI, which put up the extortion money.
The plea agreement also requires that Patkar testify or cooperate with the government in proceedings involving any possible codefendants or others indicted later in the investigation. Byrne declined to discuss what specific information the government is seeking from her client.
"If you have a cooperation agreement with the government, it means the government is investigating something and if it's investigating, you can't really talk about it," she said.
Although Patkar faces a maximum of two years in prison, he may not have to serve any additional time after he is sentenced on Oct. 29, Byrne said. Based on sentencing guidelines for this offense, it appears Patkar will have served the advisory guideline range by the time he appears for sentencing, she said.
Patkar has never been in trouble before, Byrne said.