RICO – Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations – laws were created to target organized crime, but they have been used much more expansively.
RICO is used to prosecute those involved in criminal enterprises, but can also be used through the civil courts.
In Georgia, RICO laws were used in the criminal cases against participants the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal. Last year, attorney Millard Farmer, a Newnan native, was found guilty of civil violations of the Georgia RICO law, for his “conflictioneering enterprise” involved in the “Free Jack and Thomas” child custody battle. Farmer was not found to have violated the federal RICO law.
Any “aggrieved person” may bring a civil RICO action, and the courts can issue temporary restraining orders or preliminary injunctions while a case works its way through the system. Any person injured by RICO violations can asked for “treble damages” – three times the amount of any actual damages, as well as punitive damages and attorneys fees.
Georgia’s RICO law is considerably more broad than federal RICO.
For a prosecution under RICO, there must be an “enterprise” and there must be a “pattern” of racketeering activity.
An enterprise can be a company, an organization, a gang, a governing body, a family, etc. Under Georgia RICO, two acts of racketeering activity can constitute a pattern. The two acts, which can take place decades apart, must be interrelated by distinguishing characteristics.
Racketeering activities is defined as “to commit, attempt to commit, or to solicit, coerce or intimidate another person to commit any crime which is chargeable by indictment."
Those crimes include murder, drugs, arson, burglary, forgery, theft, weapons violations, obstruction, gambling and the like, as well as things such as bribery, perjury, influencing witnesses, evidence tampering, unauthorized transfers and reproductions of recorded material, violations of the securities act, financial transaction fraud, computer hacking, removal of serial numbers, violations of laws regarding records and reports of currency transactions, deceptive commercial email and various types of fraud.
Georgia’s law also includes anything defined as racketeering activity in federal law.
Under Georgia RICO, is it unlawful for any person, through a pattern of racketeering activity or proceeds derived from a pattern of racketeering activity, to acquire or maintain interest or control of any enterprise or property of any nature, including money.
It is unlawful for a person employed or associated with any enterprise to conduct or participate in the enterprise, either directly or indirectly, through a pattern of racketeering activity. It’s also unlawful or any person to attempt or conspire to do those things.
In the Georgia law’s “findings and intent” section, it states that the Georgia General Assembly finds that there is a severe problem posed “by the increasing sophistication of various criminal elements and the increasing intent to which the state and its citizens are harmed as a result of the activities of these elements.”
It further states the intent of the law is to impose sanctions on those who violate it and to provide compensation to those injured by those violations. The law states it is not the intent of the legislature that isolated incidents of misdemeanor conduct or civil disobedience be prosecuted by the law. Instead, the law is to 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.”
For criminal prosecutions, RICO is a felony punishable by between 5 and 20 years in prison, or fines of up to $25,000 or three times the amount of any value gained by the crime.
Civil penalties can include the dissolution or reorganization of an enterprise, forfeiture of a corporation’s charter, an order than a defendant divest himself from interest in an enterprise or property, suspension or renovation of licenses or permits, or restrictions of future activities or investments of any defendant.
Any “aggrieved person” may bring a RICO action, and the courts can issue temporary restraining orders or preliminary injunctions while a case works its way through the system. Any person injured by RICO violations can asked for “treble damages” – three times the amount of any actual damages, as well as punitive damages and attorneys fees.