What Is a RICO Charge? And How It Could Bring Down Donald Trump

RICO Charge:-The comprehensive accusation could potentially lead to a successful prosecution of Trump – not solely as an individual found culpable for a solitary offense, but as the central figure in what could be described as an orchestrated political criminal syndicate.
This legal strategy gained significant attention through its use against a man famously known as the “Teflon Don.” Despite being strongly suspected of a wide range of unlawful activities, this high-profile defendant managed to secure acquittals in three separate trials.

This legal maneuver was none other than the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The individual at the center of the case was mobster John Gotti. In 1992, the media-savvy Gotti finally saw his freedom slip away, as prosecutors secured a conviction using an extensive list of charges. These included crimes like murder, conspiracy to commit murder, obstruction of justice, loan sharking, illegal gambling, tax evasion, and extortion.
On Monday evening, a Georgia grand jury invoked the state’s RICO law against another attention-seeking individual: former President Donald Trump. He faces a spectrum of 13 felony charges, including conspiracy to commit forgery, filing false documents, and even violating Georgia’s unique RICO law. The grand jury asserted that the collective, in their perspective, operated as a “criminal enterprise” and “knowingly and willfully engaged in a plot to unlawfully manipulate the election’s outcome in Trump’s favor.”
While this all-encompassing charge can amplify and complicate the legal proceedings, it could also serve as the potential strategy for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to effectively prosecute Trump, as experts suggest. This approach wouldn’t single out Trump for an individual offense but would present him as a pivotal figure orchestrating what could be characterized as an organized political criminal network.

Even if Trump himself wasn’t directly implicated in committing specific individual offenses detailed in the indictment, RICO could potentially assign him culpability if prosecutors can demonstrate that he orchestrated the operation – much like a mob boss might influence subordinate members of a criminal group to execute illegal actions. Jeffrey E. Grell, a former Assistant Attorney General of Minnesota who has authored a book on RICO and taught the subject at the University of Minnesota School of Law, elucidates, “This hinges on the concept of accountability. As long as the enterprise is in motion, accountability persists. This was the fundamental challenge RICO aimed to tackle: How can an individual who remains removed from direct involvement still be held responsible for the organization?”
While the former president isn’t directly accused of direct involvement in criminal acts, “many perceive Trump, especially, as a sort of ‘Godfather’ figure, overseeing individuals allegedly executing his directives,” Grell adds.
Initially aimed at organized crime, the 1970 federal RICO law has expanded its reach to encompass a broader range of illicit activities, including politicians, corrupt law enforcement agencies, and criminal gangs.
To establish a RICO charge, prosecutors must prove that the defendant committed at least one of the specified RICO crimes (such as mail and wire fraud) and demonstrate a pattern involving a minimum of two crimes. In federal law, this means the crimes must be interconnected, involving the same victim, participants, or methods – or display continuity, occurring for at least a year.”

Barricades were visible close to the Fulton County courthouse in Atlanta on Monday, August 7, 2023.
Barricades were visible close to the Fulton County courthouse in Atlanta on Monday, August 7, 2023.

“In typical conspiracy cases, you usually find multiple instances of the same type,” such as regular drug trafficking,” explains Jim Walden, a former federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York and currently a partner and trial lawyer at the New York-based firm Walden, Macht & Haran.
“In the past, prosecutors weren’t accustomed to filing multiple charges under a single conspiracy,” he noted. As an illustration, a homicide might not exhibit a direct connection to illicit gambling, an act that the defendants could also potentially engage in. Walden elucidates that RICO’s uniqueness stemmed from its inventive strategy, empowering prosecutors to file charges for various distinct transgressions, as long as they shared a link within the same criminal framework.

In the recent Georgia indictment on Monday night, Trump and 18 others were charged under the RICO law. A conviction under Georgia’s RICO law entails a minimum prison sentence of five years.
Interestingly, the individual who brought RICO to the forefront was Rudy Giuliani, who, during his tenure as a federal prosecutor in the 1980s, employed the law to target mobsters, bankers, and others. On Monday, Giuliani himself faced indictment under the same law, accused of involvement in an organized crime enterprise aimed at overturning the results of the 2020 democratic election.
Using RICO presents a dual-edged sword, according to experts. Given its complexity, which requires convincing a jury of a convoluted network of criminal activities, everything from jury selection to the trial process itself can become protracted, involving numerous exhibits and witnesses.

“Every attorney’s objective is to maneuver with streamlined simplicity,” Grell articulates. “Opting for RICO adds a significant level of intricacy.”

A protracted trial poses a lesser concern when dealing with a state crime. During his time as president, Trump asserted his authority to self-pardon, a move he’s likely to pursue if he wins the 2024 election. However, presidents lack the power to pardon state-level offenses.
This circumstance could potentially work in Willis’ favor, suggests Walden, as other co-defendants might be more inclined to cooperate and provide evidence against their former leader or associate if they believe it could spare them a prison term – a sentence that Trump would be unable to reverse.
“Bringing together Trump and individuals of that nature in a room can suddenly make the seemingly impossible attainable,” asserts Walden.

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