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What are the RICO laws being used to target Donald Trump in Georgia? | US News


State prosecutors in Georgia have used racketeering laws to indict Donald Trump.

Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis claims Trump and 18 co-defendants “engaged in a criminal racketeering enterprise to overturn Georgia’s presidential election result” in 2020.

The 100-page indictment accuses the former president of 13 charges, including conspiracy to impersonate a public officer, commit false statements, and forgery.

Here Sky News looks at what Georgia’s state racketeering laws are – and why they are used in certain cases.

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Trump’s charges in 60 seconds

What is RICO?

In 1970 US lawmakers passed the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act.

It’s a federal law, which means it can be applied anywhere in the country, but Georgia and many other states have their own versions.

The main difference between the federal and Georgia statues is the latter has a wider definition of racketeering, requiring less proof and making it easier for prosecutors to bring cases.

In Georgia the state only has to prove a criminal enterprise exists and the defendant is linked to it in some way.

There are four ways a person can be guilty of racketeering in Georgia. They are:

  • By directly or indirectly acquiring or maintaining any interest or control of any enterprise or property through a pattern of racketeering or proceeds derived from it;
  • By directly or indirectly participating in an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering by being employed by or associated with it;
  • By conspiring or endeavouring to directly or indirectly acquire, maintain interest in, or control an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering or proceeds derived from it;
  • By conspiring or endeavouring to directly or indirectly participate in an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering by being employed by or associated with the enterprise.

The “pattern of racketeering” referred to is a series of certain crimes.

In Georgia that pattern only needs to consist of two. They could be drug offences, murder, assault, arson, burglary, theft, bribery, witness tampering or perjury, firearms violations, credit card fraud, kidnapping or carjacking.

Georgia’s RICO law does not require criminal enterprises to be long-running, unlike its federal counterpart, and lists nearly 50 underlying crimes that qualify, compared with 35.

Those crimes have to have been committed within four years of each other.

Sentencing guidelines for federal RICO cases are up to 20 years in prison. In Georgia there is a minimum of five years but the same maximum.

Former President Donald Trump leaves after speaking at the 56th annual Silver Elephant Gala in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Artie Walker Jr.)
Pic: AP{

How is it typically used?

The federal RICO act was conceived with a view to dismantling the Mafia and other organised crime groups.

But RICO laws have been used against all sorts of “criminal enterprises”, including Wall Street banks and traders accused of manipulating markets.

In Georgia, Ms Willis has previously used them to prosecute more than 20 teachers in Atlanta in 2014 who were accused of cheating on standardised test scores.

They were convicted but an unsuccessful appeal claimed that the Atlanta public school system was not a “criminal enterprise”.

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Another example of Georgia RICO case law is Kilby v State (2015).

This saw the director of an animal shelter convicted of stealing donations.

She was shown to have linked two PayPal accounts intended for donations to her personal one, which allowed her to steal $10,500 (£8,260).

It was also proved she asked her employees to give her any cash donations and not to give out receipts.

After an employee reported her to a local TV station, information was passed to prosecutors, who accused her of 29 counts of theft by taking and another 29 of computer theft.

These were the two crimes that made up the “pattern of racketeering” needed to secure the conviction.

Two board members testified that she wasn’t authorised to take any money for herself, which meant she was found guilty of racketeering by theft.

The 98-page indictment against Donald Trump and his associates
The 98-page indictment against Donald Trump and his associates

Why are RICO laws being used in the Trump case?

Eighteen of Trump’s associates have also been charged. There are 30 unnamed co-conspirators who haven’t been charged listed too.

Each one of them are another chance for prosecutors to prove an enterprise existed and that crimes were committed within it.

As long as they can prove Trump was linked to the enterprise and committed at least two crimes, they have a chance of winning the case.

Rudy Giuliani  
Rudy Giuliani is among Trump’s co-defendants. Pic: AP

Unlike federal convictions, state ones can’t be pardoned by the president.

This means that if Trump runs in and wins the 2024 election – he wouldn’t be able to strike off his friends’ convictions.

Prosecutors hope this may encourage them to turn against him. Criminal enterprises are hard to prove, however.


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