Philandering Rich Targeted for Extortion

If you're a public figure having an extramarital affair, be prepared for the possibility that it might land on the front page of the tabloids and you'll lose your job.

That's what happened to top Pepsi Bottling Group executive Gary Wandschneider.

Pepsi Bottling fired him Thursday after launching an internal investigation. He had been with the company 24 years, working his way up from production manager. The 54-year-old multimillionaire had a liaison with 22-year-old Jessica Wolcott, who he met in February on craigslist.com.

A month later, after exchanging e-mails and photos, he met her in person at a Mount Kisco, N.Y., bar. Then she began shaking him down for $125,000 by threatening to tell his wife, children and bosses he was trolling the Internet for women.

"I'm sure this will be an unpleasant surprise. I'm sure when your wife finds out that you've been looking for a fill-in for her ... it will be unpleasant for her, too," Wolcott e-mailed Wandschneider, a father of three and executive vice president for worldwide operations at Westchester, N.Y.-based Pepsi Bottling, according to court documents.

The court documents do not identify Wandschneider or Pepsi Bottling, but a federal law enforcement source and Pepsi Bottling confirmed he was the person targeted by Wolcott.

Trying to remain anonymous in her threats, Wolcott used the e-mail account "cheater_eater@hotmail.com."

"Here's hoping your life is still a living hell and worrying every day that your name will be in the news or on a TV movie for what you've done to your wife," Wolcott threatened him, according to the court documents.

Wandschneider transferred $125,000 to Wolcott's online account -- but only after he alerted the FBI, which provided the money and set up a sting operation to arrest her, the court documents said.

Wolcott pleaded guilty to charges of extortion in U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y., and is free on bail awaiting sentencing, scheduled for February.

Wandschneider's story is hardly an isolated case. But legal experts say it's difficult to gauge how frequent cases like this are.

"We don't know how many of these incidents that aren't reported," said Zach Carter, former U.S. attorney for the eastern district of New York. "We only find out when someone is unsuccessful and the victim calls the authorities. We don't know how many tries there have been. Successful acts of extortion are never reported."

But many unsuccessful ones have been. Especially when the victims are high profile.

Basketball player Michael Jordan went on the offensive. He sued Karla Knafel, a woman with whom he had an affair. Jordan alleged she tried to extort $5 million from him in return for keeping their affair a secret. Both Jordan and Knafel admit they had a relationship from 1989 to 1991.

"Cases like this are distressingly familiar," said Gerald Shargel, a high profile criminal defense lawyer and professor at Brooklyn Law School. "I've seen numerous cases like this of people in prominent positions. This is a copycat phenomenon, because people get the idea that high profile people and celebrities are easy prey. There's an absolute downside to attracting publicity because you're a target for extortion "

That doesn't just include celebrity athletes and wealthy executives. Politicians are targets, too.

In 2005, a government investigation found that former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros lied about paying $250,000 in hush money to his ex-mistress.

That investigation reached its peak on Sept. 7, 1999, when Cisneros pled guilty to a misdemeanor and agreed to pay a $10,000 fine. Linda Medlar, with whom he had a well-publicized affair, served 17 months in prison.

"In this case it wasn't really extortion'" Cisneros told ABC News. "I had a relationship with a woman and when I concluded I couldn't leave my family, she said she needed financial help and I tried to help her voluntarily. Then she alleged I wasn't forthcoming with the amounts."

Cisneros was once a Democratic rising star, but the case brought down his political career.

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