ERIE, PENNSYLVANIA - JULY 29: Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a political rally while campaigning for the GOP nomination in the 2024 election at Erie Insurance Arena on July 29, 2023 in Erie, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
Legal analyst: RICO charge puts Trump at odds with his counsel
02:40 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

Former President Donald Trump and his 18 co-defendants have been accused of breaking a variety of criminal laws in the Georgia 2020 election subversion case, but one crime ties all their alleged misconduct together: the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

The state law – which is commonly referred to as RICO – is similar to the federal version of the statute that targets so-called criminal enterprises. Georgia’s law allows prosecutors to pull an array of conduct – including activities that took place outside of the state of Georgia but may have been part of a broad conspiracy – into their indictments.

Those convicted of racketeering charges also face steeper penalties, a point of leverage for prosecutors if they are hoping to flip potential co-conspirators or encourage defendants to take plea deals.

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“Federal RICO is a very big deal. It’s difficult to prove, and it’s used pretty sparingly. Georgia RICO is a different animal. It’s easier to prove,” said Kenneth White, a defense attorney familiar with the federal law. “The point is, it’s used very aggressively there.”

For Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, the law has been her calling card. The Atlanta-area prosecutor has used it in a number of high-profile cases she’s previously brought in Georgia against school officials, gangs and musicians, including the rapper Young Thug.

“The reason that I am a fan of RICO is, I think, jurors are very, very intelligent,” Willis told reporters in 2022 at a new conference about a gang-related indictment. “They want to know what happened. They want to make an accurate decision about someone’s life. And so, RICO is a tool that allows a prosecutor’s office and law enforcement to tell the whole story.”

The historic 41-count indictment unsealed Monday accuses Trump and the other defendants of being part of a broad conspiracy to attempt to overturn the 2020 election result in the Peach State.

“The enterprise constituted an ongoing organization whose members and associates functioned as a continuing unit for a common purpose of achieving the objectives of the enterprise,” the 98-page indictment states.