WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump and his 18 co-defendants have been charged with violating a variety of criminal laws in the 2020 Georgia election sabotage case, but one crime ties all of their alleged misconduct together: the Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
The state law — commonly referred to as RICO — is similar to the federal version of the law that targets so-called criminal enterprises. Georgia law allows prosecutors to include a range of conduct — including activities that occurred outside the state of Georgia but may have been part of a broad conspiracy — in their indictments.
Those convicted of racketeering also face stiffer penalties, a pressure point for prosecutors if they hope to turn potential co-conspirators or encourage defendants to accept plea bargains.
“Federal RICO is a very big deal. It’s hard to prove, and it’s used sparingly. Georgia RICO is a different animal. It’s easier to prove,” said Kenneth White, a defense attorney familiar with federal law. “The point is that it’s used very aggressively.” there.”
For Fulton County District Attorney Fannie Willis, law has been her hallmark. The Atlanta District Attorney has used it in a number of high-profile cases she previously filed in Georgia against school officials, gangs and musicians, including rapper Young Thug.
“I think the reason I’m such a RICO fan is because juries are so smart,” Willis told reporters in 2022 at a new conference on the gang-related indictment. “They want to know what happened. They want to make an accurate decision about someone’s life. And so RICO is a tool that allows the attorney general’s office and law enforcement to tell the whole story.
The historic 41-count indictment unsealed Monday accuses Trump and his co-defendants of being part of a broad conspiracy to try to overturn the outcome of the 2020 election in the Peach State.
The 98-page indictment states that “the Foundation constitutes a continuing organization whose members and associates operate as a continuing unit with the common purpose of achieving the goals of the Foundation.”
“The Company operates in Fulton County, Georgia, elsewhere in the State of Georgia, and in other states, including, but not limited to, Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and in the District of Columbia,” the indictment adds.
Prosecutors say the criminal proceedings centered around the charge include: making false statements, providing false documents and forgery, impersonating officials, hacking computers, and attempting to influence witnesses.
Many of the alleged acts that made up the extortion conspiracy involved countries other than Georgia.
Among the 161 alleged acts that the indictment alleges were carried out to further a conspiracy to reverse Trump’s electoral loss were several episodes of communication from Trump and his advisers to state legislators in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona. The indictment also highlighted efforts to organize bogus voters in Wisconsin, Arizona and other states, as well as to coordinate an alternative voter list in Georgia.
White and other legal experts stressed that Willis’ use of RICO against Trump and his co-defendants would allow prosecutors to more easily link the alleged behavior to their case.
“I think there are strategic benefits at trial of having a large omnibus law because it makes it easier to bring outside conduct without a hearing (of evidence),” said Andrew Fleischmann, a Georgia criminal defense attorney.
But he added that RICO cases “introduce complexities that slow the case down and make it procedurally more difficult to move forward.”
RICO Giuliani Connection
Among the 19 defendants charged Monday is former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who is accused of illegally co-opting Georgia state lawmakers, making false statements to the Georgia House and Senate, and attempting to field fake voters in Georgia.
Like the others, Giuliani is also charged under Georgia’s RICO statute. But the offense brought against him is particularly notable given his successful use of the federal RICO law during efforts to prosecute several Mafia figures in the 1980s when he served as US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Giuliani has long asserted that he is responsible for changing the way the 1970 federal law is used to fight crime.
“Use it against the (Mafia) commission,” Giuliani said. New York times “In 1989,” that was an idea that no one had until I developed it and went to Washington and started talking about it. And I came to the office with her.
Willis history with RICO
Willis’ previous use of the RICO Act catapulted her into the national spotlight long before the behavior described in Monday’s indictment occurred.
In 2015, when she was working as an assistant district attorney, Willis made headlines when she accused teachers, principals and other education officials in the Atlanta Public School cheating scandal.
After a 7-month trial, Willis obtained convictions for 11 of the 12 defendants accused of racketeering and other fraud-related offenses that are believed to date back to early 2001, when scores on statewide skills tests began to rise in the district of 50,000 students. .
Last year, Willis filed charges with RICO against Young Thug and rapper Gunna, accusing them and others of conspiracy to violate the law and participation in criminal street gang activity.
Prosecutors in the case say Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffrey Lamar Williams, is a co-founder of Young Slime Life (YSL), an alleged criminal street gang that began in Atlanta. The indictment, which runs nearly 100 pages, accuses the musician of gang activity, drug and firearms violations.
It includes a number of objects as evidence of the defendants’ alleged crimes, including photos posted on social media as well as lyrics to some of the rapper’s popular songs – a tactic that has drawn backlash from other artists.
According to this indictment, Williams and others “conspired to cooperate with each other and with others for the joint purposes of illegally obtaining money and property through a pattern of racketeering activities and to administer and participate in the enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activities.”
Williams’ lawyer has vehemently denied the charges, telling CNN last year that his client “absolutely did not commit any crime” and that they look forward to a trial. The trial, which began with jury selection in January, has dragged on for months while the rapper remains in prison. Late last month, a judge again denied the rapper bail, according to court documents.
Willis also indicted 26 individuals allegedly members of a hybrid gang known as the Rich Drug Cartel under RICO’s leadership, accusing them of participating in a criminal enterprise that included home invasions, kidnappings, armed robberies and shootings.
“I have a message today that you will hear repeated over and over,” Willis said at the time. “If you think Fulton is a good county to bring your crime into, and bring violence into, you are mistaken, and you will suffer the consequences.”
This story has been updated with additional details.
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