Could Former President Trump and Allies Face Racketeering Allegations in Georgia?
Former President Donald Trump and his allies are potentially facing allegations of a serious crime in Georgia, specifically related to racketeering, due to their efforts to overturn the state’s 2020 election results. This raises questions about what racketeering means and how Georgia’s anti-racketeering law, known as the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), might come into play.
RICO, short for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, is a legal statute that allows prosecutors to combine multiple alleged criminal activities into a single racketeering charge. This charge carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Clark Cunningham, a law professor at Georgia State University, explains that RICO lets different offenses be consolidated into a single serious criminal charge, streamlining the legal process.
Fani Willis, the lead prosecutor for Fulton County in Georgia, where Atlanta is situated, initiated an investigation into Trump’s attempts to overturn the election shortly after taking office in 2020. After a 2½-year investigation, she chose to use the RICO law to pursue charges against Trump and his associates for their alleged endeavors to overturn the election results in Georgia. Willis favors the RICO statute because it enables her to present a comprehensive narrative to jurors. She stated in an interview that she has pursued more RICO indictments in the last 18-20 months than in the past decade.
Racketeering, historically linked to mob bosses and organized crime, is being reinterpreted to encompass any organization employing a pattern of illicit activities to achieve its goals. This broader perspective could be applied to Trump’s legal team, political operatives, and Republican lawmakers who attempted to overturn Georgia’s results at Trump’s urging.
In the 1980s, the federal version of RICO targeted mob bosses who orchestrated criminal activities rather than directly committing them. Legal experts believe that Trump and allies’ alleged efforts to undermine a peaceful transition of power could fit under Georgia’s RICO law. Notably, Georgia’s racketeering law is among the most comprehensive, allowing prosecutors to unite various alleged crimes, even across state lines.
In order to build a racketeering case, prosecutors are required to establish at least two underlying potential crimes that contribute to a larger criminal enterprise. What’s intriguing is that a defendant does not necessarily have to be physically located within Georgia to face charges under this legal framework.
Willis has previously employed RICO creatively, notably in prosecuting schoolteachers involved in a standardized test cheating scandal. Her office is currently using RICO to prosecute rapper Young Thug for gang-related activities.
Regarding Trump’s potential involvement, Georgia played a pivotal role in his post-election campaign to maintain power. He encouraged his allies to investigate fraud in the state, and there were public accounts of intimidation directed at Republican officials who resisted changing the election outcome.
Legal experts suggest that Trump himself could face charges, as his actions seem aligned with the requirements of Georgia’s racketeering law. The law necessitates actions taken in furtherance of a scheme, and experts believe Trump’s objective was clear: to retain the presidency by any means possible.
The history of the law dates back to the 1980s, when it was enacted by a predominantly Democratic legislature. It was expanded over time to include digital criminal activity. Notably, early prosecutions included politicians, such as Georgia’s labor commissioner and a county commissioner, both charged with racketeering in relation to election-related incidents.
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