Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statutes, or RICO statutes, were originally created as a way to federally prosecute organized crime in the mafia. Prior to RICO statutes, there wasn’t really a mechanism to prosecute somebody like The Godfather, who certainly propagated criminal activity yet technically kept his hands clean. Over time, over 30 states have created their own RICO statutes that can be prosecuted on a state level instead of a federal level, each of which was modeled after the federal statute. RICO statutes have become more expansive over time, and the state of Georgia has one of the broadest range of activities that can be prosecuted under the RICO statutes.
In enacting the RICO statutes, the Georgia General Assembly said that their intent was that the statutes “apply to an interrelated pattern of criminal activity motivated by, or the effect of which, is pecuniary gain or economic or physical threat or injury”. O.C.G.A. § 16-14-2(b).
The RICO statutes themselves are very long and dense, but effectively say that it is unlawful to interact in any way with a criminal enterprise. A criminal enterprise is basically a network of individuals who have a pattern of using criminal activity to procure some form of value, whether monetary or otherwise. Not every criminal act can be used to satisfy the RICO statute, however. Only those that are specifically noted in the statutes are applicable. That being said, there are very few criminal statutes that Georgia has not incorporated into the RICO statutes.
The state of Georgia has fully incorporated the federal statute’s list of applicable criminal acts, but has also codified 54 additional categories of criminal statutes whose violation could be used for a RICO charge. A complete list of these “Racketeering Activities” can be found by searching O.C.G.A. § 16-14-3(5). Given the breadth of the types of crimes that Georgia has incorporated into the RICO statutes, it would be difficult to find a criminal statute whose violation could not serve as a racketeering activity that would satisfy a RICO charge.
The main RICO statute, O.C.G.A. § 16-14-4(a), reads: “It shall be unlawful for any person, through a pattern of racketeering activity or proceeds derived therefrom, to acquire or maintain, directly or indirectly, any interest in or control of any enterprise, real property, or personal property of any nature, including money.”
The RICO statutes are serious felonies, but are somewhat unique in the variance of severity in punishment that they allow the judge to exact upon you. It is not entirely uncommon for a felony statute to allow the judge to choose between a hefty fine or a term of imprisonment, but what is unique about the RICO statutes is that they leave the door open for the judge to prescribe a fine as lenient as they choose in lieu of imprisonment. Where many statutes require imprisonment for a mandatory minimum term AND a fine with a mandatory minimum, the RICO punishment statute is written to allow the judge to choose between imprisonment AND/OR a fine with a mandatory maximum.
The maximum fine prescribed by the RICO statutes is relative to the value of what was procured through the racketeering activities, and determining the value of something is often a grey area ripe for litigation. In other words, this statute gives attorneys the opportunity to argue that punishment should be in the form of a fine, and the opportunity to argue that this fine should be negligible. Because the statute requires no mandatory minimum nor does it technically require that the fine be relative to the goods procured, theoretically a good defense attorney could argue that a fine of a mere $1 would be a permissible punishment by the language of the statute.
The full text of the statute governing punishment for Racketeering Activity is found under O.C.G.A. § O.C.G.A. § 16=14=5: “Any person convicted of the offense of engaging in activity in violation of Code Section 16-14-4 shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by not less than five nor more than 20 years’ imprisonment or…a fine that does not exceed the greater of $25,000.00 or three times the amount of any pecuniary value gained by him or her from such violation.”
Lack of Knowledge. Many RICO charges will occur in the context of conspiracy, or playing a role in the planning of the underlying criminal activity. For the prosecutor to be able to convict in these circumstances, they have to be able to show that you were aware of what activities were occurring and what the motive was. The supporting evidence is often very circumstantial, and a skilled defense attorney can cast doubt on your knowledge of the enterprise.
Lack of Pattern. RICO charges rely on a pattern of criminal activity, meaning that at least two of the alleged crimes have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. If your defense attorney can create a reasonable doubt on one all but one crime, the RICO statute will not be able to be satisfied.
Crimes Unrelated. RICO charges also rely on the pattern of criminal activity to further a common motive. Even if unable to cast reasonable doubt on the underlying crimes, the RICO charge can be dissolved by showing that the underlying crimes had nothing to do with each other.
In 2014, 35 school teaches were indicted under RICO charges, alleging that they conspired to change grades for students to inflate test scores in order to receive more federal funding. Before indictments, 178 educators were implicated in the scandal, making it one of the larges in United States education history. Some of the educators were alleged to have also knowingly made false statements to agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigations. Because there were multiple tests that were changed, and because there were false statements to the GBI, the prosecutor was able to establish a pattern of criminal activity, and alleged that the motive was to defraud the federal government. Ultimately, eleven defendants were convicted on RICO charges, with the heaviest punishment being 20 years in prison. Only one defendant was found not guilty on all charges.
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If you have been charged with a RICO or Racketeering charge and need the best local criminal defense attorney, give Bixon Law a call today to speak to one of our experienced Georgia criminal defense lawyers. We will vigorously defend your criminal defense rights, and advocate on your behalf to have your criminal case dismissed or your charges reduced. As experienced trial attorneys, we are not afraid to take your case to trial if necessary. We represent clients in Atlanta and throughout the state of Georgia. We are lawyers who are committed to helping people in difficult situations, and we invite you to call us at (404) 551-5684 for a free consultation on your case today.