Affair allegedly led to blackmail scheme
August 30, 2013
A former Carroll woman allegedly bought Anytime Fitness last year with the financial support of her father-in-law, had an affair with him and then tried to blackmail him for $55,000 in April, the woman's alleged cohort said when he pleaded guilty to extortion this month.
Jason Heffelmeier, 29, admitted in court on Aug. 14 that he threatened Randall Aschinger, 59, a Lake View farmer, that he would tell Aschinger's wife about the affair unless Aschinger paid him $55,555, according to a transcript of the court hearing obtained this week by the Daily Times Herald.
Heffelmeier also implicated Aschinger's daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Aschinger, 23, and Andrew Menken, 37, former Carroll County juvenile court officer, in the scheme and said he would testify against them if their extortion charges went to trial.
All three of the defendants exercised at Anytime Fitness, court records show.
Heffelmeier pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy to commit extortion, and a judge gave him a deferred judgment, which means he will not be a felon and won't go to prison if he obeys the terms of his two-year probation.
"Frankly, it was a goofy plan, and it wasn't his plan," Heffelmeier's attorney, Paul Scott, of West Des Moines, said of the blackmail scheme. "He just got kind of wrapped up in it, and it was a stupid thing for him to do."
A criminal complaint accuses Elizabeth Aschinger of telling Heffelmeier and Menken to use the alleged affair to threaten her father-in-law. Investigators used cellphone records to tie both Heffelmeier and Menken to the scheme.
They allegedly used a pre-paid, unregistered cellphone to send threats and instructions to Randall Aschinger, but investigators say that the men twice used their personal cellphones to call Aschinger.
Heffelmeier's cellphone allegedly called Aschinger on April 13, when Aschinger left a $2,900 cash payment at McHose Park in Boone. The call did not connect, but the phone records showed that the cellphones of both Heffelmeier and Menken operated off of a cell tower nearby.
Menken's cellphone allegedly called Aschinger five days prior, but again, the call did not connect.
The payment at McHose Park was a ruse, and a law-enforcement-surveillance team attempted to arrest the alleged extortionists but failed, court records show.
Heffelmeier told the judge that he gave into peer pressure and made a stupid mistake.
"Whether (Randall Aschinger is) having an affair with his daughter-in-law or not is none of my business, and (the blackmail threat) has obviously caused him a lot of grief," Heffelmeier said, according to the court transcript.
Randall Aschinger did not deny the affair when reached by telephone, but he said of Elizabeth Aschinger: "About everything she says is a lie."
Elizabeth Aschinger faces one felony charge for extortion, punishable by up to five years in prison. Menken faces two felony charges for extortion and theft, which together are punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Aschinger and her husband, Steve, sold their Carroll house in June for $185,000 and moved to an Ames apartment, according to court and county records.
Randall Aschinger lamented Heffelmeier's deferred judgment and said he might not have reported the blackmail attempt had he known Heffelmeier - and potentially the other two defendants - wouldn't go to prison.
"All it's done is caused problems with my wife and family," he said.
Elizabeth Aschinger has not responded to an interview request.
Menken has repeatedly denied his alleged role in the scheme in emails to the Times Herald but has declined to talk in detail because of the pending case.
Heffelmeier said they chose the blackmail amount of $55,555 because it was about what Randall Aschinger allegedly gave Elizabeth Aschinger to help buy Anytime Fitness in Carroll.
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