A 50-year-old Ventura computer programmer pleaded guilty Monday to mailing a threatening extortion letter to the son of a prominent Ojai farmer.
Robert Carl Johnson appeared in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles and admitted sending the letter in an attempt to extort $500,000 from Mandalay Bay resident Eric Huntsinger.
Huntsinger is the son of Carl Huntsinger, a citrus farmer in the Ojai Valley, and the grandson of Fritz Huntsinger Sr., who founded Vetco Offshore, an international oil drilling company.
The typewritten letter, which investigators said Huntsinger received Oct. 19, told him to wrap the money in a pillowcase and place it in a field near Oxnard on Oct 23. The letter also threatened Huntsinger and his family with "serious retaliation of a permanent nature" if they did not comply.
"Failure to pay will risk the health and well-being of any one of your family of four children, ages 9 to 1, brothers, sisters and both of your parents," Johnson wrote.
Huntsinger called Oxnard police, who contacted the FBI. Then the FBI, in cooperation with the Oxnard and Ventura police departments, followed the instructions detailed in the letter.
Agents arrested Johnson on Oct. 23, after he picked up a bag he thought contained the money. A federal grand jury indicted him in November on one felony count of sending threatening mail.
Thom Mrozek, public affairs officer with the U.S. attorney's office, said although Johnson's threat was probably idle, he was still prosecuted aggressively.
"Threats of extortion are some of the most serious types of crimes prosecuted by the U.S. attorney's office," Mrozek said.
Valerie Huntsinger, Eric's wife, said she is relieved Johnson pleaded guilty.
"The whole thing has been terrifying," she said. "No one should ever threaten to kill your children. . . . I hope he does serve some time in prison."
Johnson could face 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced April 5.