The massive college cheating scandal that rocked the news yesterday seems like it has nothing to do with Donald Trump. Today on Morning Joe, host Mika Brzezinski even called the explosive development “an incredible relief from Trump news and political news.” There is indeed no evidence that Trump or anyone around him is involved in this particular scandal. Nevertheless, what is happening should frighten this president because it may spell big trouble for his legal liability and even his future as a businessman.
The college cheating scandal’s prosecution is possible in large part because of a 1970 law known as RICO, which stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations. RICO offers a path to criminal and civil recovery in situations where leaders of an “enterprise” have inspired their underlings to commit a “pattern of racketeering activity.” From prison sentences to asset forfeiture and more, RICO can help ensure not only that all guilty parties get punished but that an enterprise itself gets shuts down.
RICO was enacted to help fight organized crime. But prosecutors and private individuals have been getting creative, applying the law to other situations in which they argue there is a criminal enterprise at work. For example, RICO has led to indictments against FIFA officials for international soccer corruption, and it is a part of ongoing litigation into Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct.
RICO’s valuable role in the college cheating scandal highlights the law’s proven power and widening applicability. This should scare the bejesus out of Trump and his business associates. RICO cases are challenging to bring, and they are not always successful. But it is not a stretch to think that the SDNY investigation into the Trump Organization could produce enough compelling evidence under RICO to make the whole company come crashing down. At the very least, this serves as a stark reminder that Trump’s future hangs on so much more than the Mueller probe.