Criminal law

What is RICO, the law at the heart of Trump’s criminal case in Georgia?


Washington (CNN) – 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.

Former President Donald Trump speaks with the press at the Iowa Pork Producers Pavilion during the 2023 Iowa State Fair at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023.

(Photo by Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

“Federal RICO is very big,” said Kenneth White, a defense attorney familiar with federal law. “It’s hard to prove, and it’s used very sparingly. Georgia RICO is a different animal. It’s easier to prove.” “The point is, it’s being 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 like RICO is because juries are so smart,” Willis told reporters in a 2022 news conference about 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 The historic 41-count indictment was unveiled on Monday He accuses Trump and the other defendants of being part of a broad conspiracy to try to overturn the outcome of the 2020 elections in the state of Al-Khokha.

“The corporation constitutes a continuous organization whose members and partners work as a continuous unit for the common purpose of achieving the objectives of the corporation.” The indictment is 98 pages long States.

“The Foundation 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 in outside behavior without a hearing,” said Andrew Fleischman, a Georgia criminal defense attorney.

But he added that RICO cases “introduce complexities that slow the case down and make moving forward procedurally more difficult.”

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, “It was an idea that nobody had until I developed it and went to Washington and started talking about it. I brought it into the office.”

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.

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.”


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