Trump 'acts like a mafioso': Why NY's AG may treat the Trump Organization like a mob racket in its criminal inquiry, according to legal experts
- The Trump Org and CFO Allen Weisselberg are facing criminal probes from New York's attorney general.
- As part of those investigations, prosecutors could pursue racketeering charges under RICO laws.
- Legal experts told Insider about how RICO laws could come into play.
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One route prosecutors could take is to treat the
What are RICO laws and how could they apply to the Trump Organization?
The federal RICO Act was enacted as a way to combat organized crime, and a majority of states have since passed similar laws.But even though they've come to be associated with cases involving the mafia, Robbins said RICO laws could apply to any situations where organizations engage in criminal activity for the benefit of their officers or owners. "The RICO statute is brought all the time in cases which do not involve physical violence, but which involve financial criminality, so it doesn't surprise me in the slightest that, among the things, that prosecutors are looking at whether there's a basis to charge the organization with racketeering," Robbins said, adding that it was too early to predict prosecutors' plans.
While they're complex and vary by state, RICO laws typically involve a person engaging in a "pattern of criminal behavior" through an "enterprise" over a certain period of time for their financial gain, according to Blakey.
Prosecutors could look at criminal activity involving not just the Trump Organization but also Trump's use of the US government for his personal gain, Blakey added.Read more: Georgia prosecutor calls Giuliani's election claims 'various overt acts for an illegal purpose' that could warrant a racketeering charge
"You think he didn't make money off the government and the way he ran the hotel?" Blakey said, referring to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, which created scrutiny over whether there were conflicts of interest for Trump while he was in office.
RICO charges can be brought in civil or criminal cases, Blakey said. But, he added, as a state prosecutor, James would be able to bring charges only under New York's state law, not the federal RICO Act.
Why might prosecutors pursue RICO charges?Compared with conspiracy or other charges prosecutors could pursue, racketeering charges carry much longer sentences and larger financial penalties.
Also, instead of having to pay a (relatively) small fine, he said, the convicted person must forfeit assets and profits they gained because of their criminal activity, based on the value of the illegal transactions."It's flexible in amount, but it's mandatory," he added.
Blakey said that could make a huge difference in practice. He gave the example of prosecutors pursuing RICO charges in a drug-trafficking case, saying if a dealer made $1 million, they would owe the government $1 million. If they made $2 million, they'd owe $2 million. "If it was just a fine for doing the dope, it would be $10,000," he added.There are also considerations around the narrative prosecutors might try to create to persuade a jury if a case against Trump or the Trump Organization went to trial. "He talks like a mafioso. He acts like a mafioso," Blakey said, adding: "His legal campaign was actually taking over a legitimate organization to run it criminally."
What are hurdles to pursuing RICO charges?
Given the political nature of any case involving Trump, prosecutors will need to be strategic about the type of case they pursue if they do charge Trump or his affiliates, Blakey said.
"If you're going to mess around with the president of the United States, you best have the simplest case alive and overwhelming evidence," he said.Read more: The New York Attorney General's announcement about a 'criminal' Trump Organization probe could flip more witnesses
The simplest case would be a civil case without racketeering charges, which would be the easiest to win and could at least help prosecutors prove a symbolic point that "nobody is above the law," Blakey said.
Going the criminal route, with or without RICO charges, would be much harder because jury verdicts in criminal cases must be unanimous. He added: "You always run the risk of a die-hard Trump supporter who will vote against you no matter what your evidence is."Seeking racketeering charges in either a criminal or civil case would add yet another layer of difficulty for prosecutors.
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