Washington (CNN) — Former President Donald Trump and his 18 co-defendants have been charged with violating several criminal laws in the Georgia 2020 election subversion case, but one crime ties all of their alleged wrongdoings together: the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
The state law — commonly referred to as RICO — is similar to the federal version of the statute that focuses on so-called criminal enterprises. Georgia law allows prosecutors to implicate a range of conduct — including activities that took place outside the state of Georgia but may have been part of a broad conspiracy — in their charges.
Those convicted of racketeering charges also face stiffer sentences, leveraging prosecutors if they hope to overthrow potential co-conspirators or encourage defendants to enter plea deals.
“Federal RICO is a really big deal. It’s hard to prove and it’s used pretty sparingly. Georgia RICO is a different animal. It’s easier to prove,” said Kenneth White, a lawyer familiar with federal law. “The thing is, it’s being used very aggressively there.”
For Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, the law has been her calling card. The Atlanta District Attorney has used it in a number of high-profile cases she has previously brought in Georgia against school officials, gangs and musicians, including the rapper Young Thug.
“The reason I’m a fan of RICO, I think, is because jurors are very, very intelligent,” Willis told reporters at a press conference in 2022 regarding a gang-related indictment. “They want to know what happened. They want to make the right decision about someone’s life. And so RICO is a tool that allows prosecutors and law enforcement to tell the whole story.”
Theaccuses Trump and the other defendants of being part of a broad conspiracy to try to overturn the 2020 election results in the state of Peach.
“The Company formed a continuous organization whose members and employees functioned as a continuous unit for a common purpose of achieving the Company’s objectives,” thestates.
“The company operated in Fulton County, Georgia, elsewhere in the state of Georgia, in other states including, but not limited to, Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and in the District of Columbia,” it added. the indictment to it.
Prosecutors say the criminal actions on which the charges are based include making false statements, filing false documents and forgeries, impersonating government officials, computer breaches and attempting to influence witnesses.
Several of the acts alleged to have constituted the racketeering conspiracy involved states other than Georgia.
Among the 161 alleged acts the charging states committed in furthering a conspiracy to reverse Trump’s electoral loss were the several episodes of outreach by Trump and his advisers to state legislators in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona. The indictment also highlighted efforts to stage rogue voters in Wisconsin, Arizona and other states, in addition to coordinating an alternate list of voters in Georgia.
White and other legal experts stressed that Willis’ use of RICO against Trump and his co-defendants will allow prosecutors to easily tie alleged conduct to their case.
“I think there are strategic benefits to having a large overarching statute at trial because it makes it easier to bring in outside behavior without hearing (an evidence),” said Andrew Fleischman, a Georgia criminal defense attorney.
But, he added, RICO cases “do involve complexities that slow down a case and make it procedurally more difficult to move forward.”
Giuliani’s RICO connection
Among the 19 defendants indicted Monday is former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, charged with illegally recruiting Georgia state lawmakers, making false statements to the Georgia House and Senate and attempting to make false statements. voters in Georgia.
Like the others, Giuliani is also charged under Georgia’s RICO law. But the crime charged against him is especially noteworthy given his successful use of the federal RICO statute during attempts to prosecute various mob figures in the 1980s when he served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Giuliani has long maintained that he is responsible for changing the way the 1970 federal law is used to fight crime.
“Using it against the (mafia) commission,” Giuliani told The New York Times in 1989, “that was an idea nobody had until I developed it and went to Washington and started talking about it. And I came to the office with it .”
Willis’ history with RICO
Willis’ previous use of the RICO law had thrust her into the national spotlight long before the behavior described in Monday’s indictment allegedly occurred.
In 2015, while serving as an assistant district attorney, Willis made headlines when she sued teachers, principals and other education officials in an Atlanta Public School fraud scandal.
After a 7-month trial, Willis secured convictions for 11 of the 12 defendants charged with racketeering and other crimes related to deception that were believed to date back to early 2001, when scores on aptitude tests began to rise statewide in the school district with 50,000 students. .
Last year, Willis filed RICO charges against Young Thug and the rapper Gunna, accusing them and others of conspiracy to break the law and participation in criminal street gangs.
Willis also charged 26 individuals alleged to be members of a hybrid gang known as the Drug Rich Gang under RICO, 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 over and over again,” Willis said at the time. “If you thought Fulton was a good county to take your crime to, to take your violence to, you’re wrong and you’re going to suffer the consequences.”