A former employee of Hearth and Fireplace Creations in Valparaiso found himself on the wrong side of the law after allegedly making threats and attempting extortion against his former employer. Valparaiso Police charged Florala, Alabama resident Christopher Paul Keen, 37, with felony extortion in connection with alleged threats he made to his former employer to solicit donations to his monther’s funeral expenses.
The arrest, carried out by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, took place on February 4, 2024, six months after the incident allegedly took place.
According to Valparaiso Police, Keen contacted the business owner via text message, claiming urgency.
The victim’s sworn affidavit says the defendant, who resigned from the company in June 2020, requested financial assistance for his mother’s funeral expenses.
The business owner declined to give Keen money, according to the report, citing previous attempts to solicit money from other employees. The owner says Keen became belligerent, aired grievances about his pay compared to coworkers, and threatened to report a past workplace incident to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Police cite text messages they say they found during the investigation into the incident they believe the defendant sent which threatened a report to OSHA and taunted the owner about a potential business shut down due to a report.
The alleged victim attempted to reason with the defendant, but says the threats persisted.
The business owner filed a compaint and Valparaiso Police began their investigation.
Police say Keen admitted to sending the threatening messages but claimed he could not recall specific details before he hung up on officers investigating the case. Despite what police say are subsequent attempts to engage with the defendant, he failed to appear at the department for further questioning.
Keen has his felony plea date on March 14, 2024 and will make his pretrial conference on April 8, 2024.