Woman guilty of 'sinister' blackmail scheme
September 25, 2013
A former Carroll woman agreed Tuesday to testify in court against her alleged co-conspirator in exchange for lenient punishment for an attempt to blackmail her father-in-law for more than $55,000 in April.
Elizabeth Aschinger, 24, co-owner of Anytime Fitness in Carroll, pleaded guilty Tuesday to felony conspiracy to commit extortion. The charge is punishable by up to five years in prison, but a judge deferred judgment of the case.
Aschinger will not be a felon nor go to prison if she obeys the terms of her two-year probation.
"I'm gonna give you a break here, but your full and absolute cooperation is the ... bargain," District Court Judge Thomas Bice said of Aschinger's promise to testify at trial. "This type of behavior will not be tolerated.
Aschinger and Jason Heffelmeier, 29, of Buckingham, have admitted in court to different aspects of a blackmail scheme this spring in which they threatened Aschinger's father-in-law, Randall Aschinger, 59, of Lake View, that they would reveal his alleged affair with Elizabeth Aschinger unless he paid the money.
They threatened to give incriminating text messages to Randall Aschinger's wife.
Heffelmeier pleaded guilty to the same charge last month and also got a deferred judgment. He was apologetic in court about threatening Randall Aschinger and said he "obviously caused him a lot of grief."
Elizabeth Aschinger declined to speak or apologize when judge Bice gave her the opportunity Tuesday.
The third person accused of the scheme, Andrew Menken, 37, a former Carroll County juvenile court officer, has repeatedly denied his alleged role in emails to the Daily Times Herald.
Menken faces two felony charges for extortion and theft, which together are punishable by up to 10 years in prison. He has said he plans to go to trial.
Heffelmeier and Elizabeth Aschinger said in court that Menken was part of the scheme and agreed to testify at his trial, which has not been scheduled.
"I need her to repeat what she said today on a witness stand," Sac County Attorney Ben Smith, who is prosecuting the cases, told the judge Tuesday when he asked for a deferred judgment for Aschinger.
Bice agreed, but said, "I want you to know it's with a certain amount of reluctance. This is a very, very serious matter."
Criminal complaints accuse Aschinger of telling Heffelmeier and Menken - who both exercised at Anytime Fitness - to use the alleged affair to threaten her father-in-law and gave them his cellphone number. The men allegedly used an unregistered, prepaid cellphone to make the threats, but investigators say they twice called with their personal cellphones, which is how investigators connected them to the scheme.
Further, both of the men's personal cellphones were in the area of a Boone park in April when Randall Aschinger left a $2,900 payment, cellphone records revealed.
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.
Steve Aschinger was not in the courtroom Tuesday, but Elizabeth Aschinger wore a wedding ring.
Aschinger and her father-in-law are co-owners of Anytime Fitness, and Aschinger's attorney said they might sell the business. A judge agreed that the two - who are forbade by court order from having contact with each other - can communicate about the business through another person.
Heffelmeier said last month that they chose the blackmail amount of $55,555 because it was about what Randall Aschinger gave Elizabeth Aschinger to help buy the business.
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