August 15, 2013

A 39-year-old Buckingham man pleaded guilty Wednesday to felony conspiracy to commit extortion for his role in a scheme to blackmail a Lake View farmer.

A judge granted Jason D. Heffelmeier a deferred judgment Wednesday for the crime, which means he will avoid an official conviction and prison time if he abides the terms of his probation for two years.

Heffelmeier's alleged accomplices - Elizabeth Aschinger, 23, the farmer's daughter-in-law, and Andrew Menken, 37, who quit his job as juvenile court officer for Carroll County in May amid the criminal charges - are set for court trials on Aug. 28 in Sac City.

Menken has waived his right to a speedy trial, according to court records, which often indicates that the trial date will be delayed.

A criminal complaint accuses Aschinger - who operates Anytime Fitness in Carroll - of providing information to Heffelmeier and Menken - who exercised at Anytime Fitness - to allegedly threaten farmer Randall Aschinger, 59, that they would reveal the information to expose him to hatred, contempt and ridicule unless he paid $55,555.

Investigators have declined to release specific details of that threat. Elizabeth Aschinger allegedly agreed to take half of the blackmail money.

Investigators tied Menken to the scheme with cellphone records from April 13, when Randall Aschinger left a $2,900 cash payment at McHose Park in Boone. The payment was a ruse, and a law-enforcement surveillance team attempted to arrest the alleged extortionists at the park but failed, court records show.

But cellphone records revealed that an unregistered, prepaid cellphone used to make the threats and Menken's personal cellphone called Randall Aschinger that day, and that both phones operated off of the same cell tower near Boone.

Menken faces two felony charges for extortion and theft, which together are punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Elizabeth Aschinger faces one felony charge for extortion, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Aschinger sold her Carroll house in June for $185,000 and moved to an Ames apartment, according to court and county records.