After a two-year investigation, Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis has charged former President Donald Trump and 18 others with conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.
All of the defendants were charged with violations of Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO, law.
What is the RICO law and how does it apply to Trump and the others?
Here’s what we know about it now:
What is Georgia’s RICO law?
In essence, a RICO law allows prosecutors — both federal and state — to charge multiple people who commit separate crimes while working towards a common criminal goal.
Georgia’s RICO law is based on the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. That legislation was originally designed to dismantle organized crime groups. It was passed in 1970.
While it was designed to break up crime “families” by targeting those higher up in a criminal organization, the use of the law evolved over the years to include prosecution of many other crimes, such as embezzlement schemes and government corruption cases.
The Georgia RICO statute allows for prosecution of different people on what can seem to be unrelated crimes if those crimes were committed in support of a common criminal objective.
“It allows a prosecutor to go after the head of an organization, loosely defined, without having to prove that that head directly engaged in a conspiracy or any acts that violated state law,” Michael Mears, a law professor at John Marshall Law School in Atlanta told The New York Times. “If you are a prosecutor, it’s a gold mine. If you are a defense attorney, it’s a nightmare.”
What is required in Georgia for a RICO charge?
In Georgia, prosecutors must show “a pattern of racketeering activity” to bring charges.
Georgia courts have said that a pattern consists of “at least two acts of racketeering activity within a four-year period in furtherance of one or more schemes that have the same or similar intent.” There are 40 state crimes that can qualify together as a “pattern of racketeering activity” in Georgia.
It is notable that the state’s definition of a pattern of racketeering activity is broader than the federal law it is based on.
According to the Times, “the attempt, solicitation, coercion, and intimidation of another person to commit one of the offenses” can be considered racketeering activity in Georgia.
The law doesn’t require the state to prove Trump knew about or ordered all the crimes, Mears told the Times, just that he was the head of an enterprise that carried out the crimes.
What are the penalties under Georgia’s RICO law?
In Georgia, a felony conviction on a RICO violation carries a prison term of between five and 20 years and a fine of $25,000 or three times the amount of money gained from the criminal activity, whichever is greater.