Back in the days when Republicans actually used to do good things, Richard Nixon created RICO. Alas, I am not thinking specifically of RICO when I speak of good things invented by Republicans. Believe it or not Nixon invented the EPA. That was a good thing. On balance, however, I do not think of RICO as a good thing. It’s intent, to make things such as instructing one person to murder another person a crime is a good thing, to be sure. But RICO’s abuses are legion.
RICO, which stands for “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act,” was created in 1970 to combat the Italian Mafia and make it a crime to associate with and thereby influence racketeers. The idea that you can also be charged with a crime for hanging out with people who commit crimes is both compelling and worrisome. It’s an awfully wide net one casts with RICO, and fish not intended for consumption frequently get trapped in that net.
One could, for example, run a company in which some of your underlings, through no fault of your own, commit crimes. Under RICO you can potentially be charged with those crimes. And because a RICO statute violation carries a mandatory 20 year sentence, it can be used as a bargaining chip by prosecutors. They can say something like, “I’ll take RICO off the table if you plead guilty to the lesser charge.” Thus, an innocent person could go to prison for, say, five years when in the absence of RICO they wouldn’t have been charged in the first place.
But it gets worse. If an innocent person charged under RICO decides to roll the dice and go to trial anyway, the sentence they face can be effectively life ending. What’s more, if they are found not guilty, property confiscated under RICO can still be kept by the government.
So you can have personal property honestly gained taken away from you by the United States government for absolutely no reason, a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment which proscribes unreasonable searches and seizures. RICO makes such outrages not only possible, they happen all the time. That is why I am opposed to the RICO statute. It needs to be rewritten specifically to prevent such outrageous abuses from happening.
That said, Donald Trump has much to fear from RICO. This is where RICO is like the atom bomb. The world would be a much better place without nukes but sometimes they’re good to have around anyway. Perhaps it’s Trump’s karmic fate to be taken down by RICO for, if nothing else, mocking how Hispanic people pronounce “Puerto Rico.”
All kidding aside, I’d feel a lot better about the whole thing if Trump went to prison for crimes he is known to have committed himself. Even so, RICO may cast the perfect net for Trump, but its application for any reason makes me uneasy and for reasons already stated. In any case, we may see what’s left (if anything) of the so-called Trump empire positively devastated by what almost certainly will become a case with both conventional and RICO statute violations listed in the indictment.
Donald Trump and his children have much to fear right now. If they aren’t afraid it’s because they are either stupid or badly advised or both. RICO is coming for them, and RICO takes no prisoners. RICO is nothing like the United States of America, her Constitution nor her freedoms. RICO is a horrifying monster that I — almost — wouldn’t wish on my very worst enemy. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.