Home News Stories 2010 May New Violent Robbery Initiative
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New Violent Robbery Initiative

New Violent Robbery Initiative
Gets Help from an Older Federal Law


Crime scene tape
The Hobbs Act was passed in 1946 as an amendment to the 1934 Anti-Racketeering Act.

Last month in Philadelphia, local police and the FBI began looking into a string of convenience store robberies that involved suspects holding store employees—and in some instances, customers—at gunpoint. One of the store clerks was pistol-whipped.

In general, violent crime is down in Philadelphia, but armed robberies of businesses—especially those committed by repeat violent offenders—remain an ongoing problem. So the FBI and our partners in the Philadelphia Police Department have teamed up in a new task force that will tackle these cases using the federal Hobbs Act.

A bit of Hobbs history. The Hobbs Act was passed in 1946 as an amendment to the 1934 Anti-Racketeering Act. Both laws target labor racketeering and organized crime activities, but the Hobbs Act has been used successfully in recent years against armed robbers who victimize businesses. The law criminalizes obstruction, delay, or impact on interstate commerce by robbery or extortion with the use of actual or threatened violence.

Benefits of the Hobbs Act. There are three main advantages:

  • The penalties are harsher than in local prosecutions. Sentences of 20, 30, or 50 years, and even life sentences, have already been handed out by federal courts around the country.
  • Since the federal system has no parole, anyone receiving a federal sentence serves out the full term (no early-out for good behavior).
  • Faced with long prison sentences, some of the suspects in these cases will cooperate with law enforcement and prosecutors—giving up names and knowledge of other crimes—in return for reduced sentences.

Philadelphia’s unique solution. Since 2003, the FBI and Philadelphia Police Department have been working together investigating armed robberies of commercial businesses as part of our Violent Crimes Task Force. And there are a number of other FBI field offices that use the Hobbs Act in armed robbery cases.

So then what’s really unique about Philadelphia’s new initiative? It’s the first time that an FBI office has created a whole squad focused on investigating—under the Hobbs Act—violent criminal enterprises and crews involved in armed robberies of commercial establishments.

Investigators on the Hobbs Act Task Force—like on all joint task forces—combine their expertise and resources. Philadelphia police detectives bring to the table first-hand knowledge of criminals and crimes in their city, while Bureau agents offer their experience in applying sensitive investigative techniques like court-authorized electronic surveillance and undercover operations.

Role of intelligence. Both agencies can take advantage of the information-sharing effort of our Hobbs Act initiative, which is designed to turn raw intelligence from defendants into actionable information. The intelligence is obtained through a proffer—a federal agreement in which defendants offer incriminating information about other defendants in the same case or about other crimes they have knowledge of…in return for a lesser sentence. Defendants are asked not just about robbery cases being prosecuted, but also about other areas of investigative interest to the Philadelphia Police Department or the FBI, like violent gangs, drug trafficking, and terrorism.

Investigators on our Hobbs Act Task Force also work closely on this initiative with prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

“The bottom line, as far as the task force is concerned,” says Philadelphia FBI Special Agent J.J. Klaver, “is to protect our community by getting dangerous criminals off the streets and into prison for a very long time.”

- Hobbs Act