Man gets 9-month term for extortion


An Ellicott City man was sentenced yesterday to nine months in jail for attempting to extort $200,000 from a former girlfriend and trying to hire two men to lie for him after he was arrested for his scheme.

John Furer Dickstein was sentenced in Howard Circuit Court after pleading guilty in May to extortion, telephone misuse and obstruction of justice.

Judge Dennis Sweeney said during yesterday's hearing that Mr. Dickstein must be punished for his "calculating" actions to serve as an example to others who plot to manipulate the criminal justice system to their advantage.

"There is no more serious injury that one can do to our court system . . . than to attempt to obstruct justice in this type of fashion," Judge Sweeney said.

"The message must be one that if you do something like this, you are extraordinarily compounding the problems you already have."

Judge Sweeney sentenced Mr. Dickstein to 18 months in prison for obstruction of justice, with half of the term suspended. He also was given suspended jail terms and three years of supervised probation for extortion and telephone misuse.

Mr. Dickstein, 39, must serve his nine-month jail term at the Howard County Detention Center, starting Aug. 7.

The sentence fell between the one-year jail term sought by prosecutors and the suspended sentence requested by Mr. Dickstein's attorney.

Steven Allen, a Baltimore attorney for Mr. Dickstein, said the case has caused Mr. Dickstein to lose his job as an actuary for the Social Security Administration and risk his 13-year marriage.

The attorney said the incidents resulted from psychiatric disorders that clouded Mr. Dickstein's judgment. He said Mr. Dickstein suffers from depression and paraphilia, which is perverted sexual behavior.

Mr. Dickstein, who is receiving counseling for the disorders, should not be further punished, Mr. Allen said.

"This is a fellow who lost his way," Mr. Allen said. "This whole episode has caused his life to be irrevocably changed. . . . He's been humiliated. He's been embarrassed."

Prosecutors contend that Mr. Dickstein plotted last fall against a self-described escort who had broken off her relationship with him. The woman was being threatened by an extortionist who threatened to kill her if she didn't pay $200,000.

But his plan to save her from the extortionist and recapture her affections unraveled as police began suspecting that he was behind a string of threatening letters and harassing telephone calls to the woman, her former husband and their teen-age son, prosecutors say.

Mr. Dickstein denied any involvement when he was approached by police, telling investigators that a third person was to blame.

He was arrested Dec. 9, three days after police taped a telephone conversation he had with the woman, who now lives in Annapolis. In it, Mr. Dickstein admitted sending the letters and making the calls -- with the hope of winning her back.

In April, he approached a 20-year-old Columbia man playing basketball at Centennial Park, offering to pay him to testify at his trial.

The man reported the incident to police, who had the man arrange another meeting with Mr. Dickstein. At this meeting, Mr. Dickstein tried to hire an undercover detective also to testify for him.

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