Karate expert sentenced to 2 years in prison in extortion case

Gunther Blancke and Thomas True
Gunther Blancke and Thomas True

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A karate expert was sentenced in federal court to two years in prison after pleading guilty in a Mount Pleasant extortion case where the victim was beaten and threatened.

U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said 40-year-old Gunther Blancke of West Palm Beach, Fl. was sentenced in Charleston to two years in prison and three years of supervised release.

A press release by the U.S. Attorney's Office states Blancke is a 4th degree black belt who was a former two-time European champion in Martial Arts who taught in Charleston and West Palm Beach.

Thomas F. True, 69, of Mount Pleasant was also sentenced to nine years in prison and three years of supervised release.

True pleaded guilty on July 23, 2012 to one count of conspiracy to commit extortion and Blancke was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit extortion and one count of attempted extortion following a three day trial.

Investigators say the incident happened on June of 2010 when True and Blancke held Steven Sarkela inside a home in the Snee Farms community of Mount Pleasant.

According to court records, Sarkela was duct taped to a chair, beaten and threatened with until he signed a document giving True $200,000 from a sale of a James Island condo.

Authorities say while Sarkela was being held in a closet inside the home, he spit on a wall to leave evidence that he was being held captive. A press release by U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles states that results of FBI DNA testing later determined that Sarkela's DNA was present on the wall of the closet where Sarkela spat.

Authorities say True originally told police that he came home from the gym and found Sarkela in his home going through papers in an office. True called police, said he didn't want to press charges and Sarkela was let go.

Sarkela told a different story to the FBI. He told them that he was beaten, threatened and feared for his life at the hands of True and Blancke.

The FBI had Sarkela call True and secretly taped the conversation. In the conversations, Sarkela said he was scared.

According to the FBI, True responded by saying, "You better be scared.  If I were you I would be scared."

As part of his sentence, Blancke must surrender to immigration and customs enforcement for deportation to his native country of Belgium.

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