Defendant Pleads Guilty in E-Mail Extortion Scheme
RICHMOND, VA—Christopher J. Burruss, 37, of Toano, Virginia, pleaded guilty today to Interstate Threat to Injure the Reputation of Another, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 875(d). Burruss faces a maximum of two years’ imprisonment, a fine of $250,000, and one year of supervised release when he is sentenced on January 21, 2015, by United States District Court Judge James R. Spencer.
Dana J. Boente, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; and Adam S. Lee, Special Agent in Charge for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Richmond Division, made the announcement after the guilty plea was accepted by Magistrate Judge David J. Novak.
According to court papers, the victim of the scheme, T.N., is an attorney who previously represented Burruss in an Eluding Police and Driving Under the Influence (First Offense) criminal case in New Kent County, Virginia. In November 2010, Burruss went to trial and was ultimately convicted on both offenses. In November 2012, Burruss filed a Habeas Corpus Petition in state court, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel by T.N. After a hearing on the matter, the Virginia Circuit Court with jurisdiction over the case rejected Burruss’s challenge. He appealed and, in early 2014, the case was pending before the Virginia Supreme Court with oral arguments scheduled for February 11, 2014.
As part of the plea, Burruss admitted that on September 12, 2013, he filed a Virginia State Bar complaint against T.N. Among other allegations, Burruss stated that he believed that T.N. had mishandled the New Kent County criminal case and had inappropriate communications and contact with Burruss’s friend, S.B., and another woman leading up to and after the criminal case that affected T.N.’s representation. Included with the complaint, Burruss attached several embarrassing e-mail and text messages between T.N., S.B., and two other women. Also included were affidavits from S.B. and another woman detailing some of their interactions with T.N. before and after the New Kent County criminal case. These e-mails, text messages, and affidavits later served as the basis for Burruss’s extortionate threats against T.N.
From January 23, 2014, through January 26, 2014, Burruss, with the assistance of S.B., began a direct e-mail exchange with T.N. in which Burruss communicated his extortionate demands. In a series of three e-mails, his demands evolved and required that to avoid disclosure of the embarrassing communications to the press, T.N. would have to submit an affidavit to the Virginia Supreme Court admitting to mishandling the New Kent County criminal case and repay almost $20,000 in legal fees incurred by Burruss in connection with the case. The one-count information charging Burruss is premised on the following extortionate communication sent by Burruss on January 24, 2014, in response to a series of questions from T.N.:
Hi [T.N.]- In response to your letter this morning Chris is seeking that you write an affidavit to be submitted to the Supreme Court admitting that you mishandled the case. He is also seeking complete restitution, which would include your retainer and the $20,000 in legal fees since then. In the event that the DUI fine remains in effect he asks that you pay that, as well. Neither of the affidavits from [C.E.] or myself were submitted to the court. They are not yet public record, however Chris intends to move forward on Monday afternoon. As far as the Bar is concerned we all know they would prefer to keep all of this very quiet. Best regards- [S.B.]
After receiving the final e-mail on the afternoon of January 26, 2014, T.N. had no further communication with Burruss or S.B. T.N. reported this matter to federal and state authorities, which led to the current prosecution.
The case was investigated by the FBI’s Richmond office. Assistant United States Attorneys Michael Gill and Heather Hart are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:14-cr-135.