Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, has a history of using Georgia’s robust Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) statute, though some critics argue that she has stretched its intended purpose.
In 2013, Willis led a prosecution involving educators and administrators from Atlanta public schools accused of cheating on standardized tests. The Fulton County district attorney’s office indicted thirty-five individuals under the RICO statute, originally associated with Mafia cases, for participating in “organized and systemic misconduct” that artificially inflated test scores.
The Georgia RICO statute, enacted in 1980 to target Black street gangs and “nontraditional conspiracies,” differs from the federal RICO statute. It does not require demonstrating an underlying criminal enterprise but rather the commission of various illegal acts supporting a single criminal goal. Georgia’s expansive statute makes it attractive to prosecutors for major cases.
Since Fani Willis became the district attorney in 2021, the use of RICO indictments has increased significantly. Last year, she announced a fifty-six-count RICO indictment against members of a gang called Y.S.L., including the rapper Young Thug.
Some observers believe that the application of the RICO statute in the Y.S.L. case, as well as a potential case against Donald Trump for the 2020 election, may extend the statute’s intended limits.
Willis is investigating Trump’s attempts to overturn the election and has convened a special grand jury for additional testimonies. Speculation about potential RICO charges against Trump and his alleged accomplices has circulated for months. The reported evidence suggests the possibility of such charges.
Some legal experts believe that the use of RICO in the Trump case could be appropriate, given the scope of alleged election interference and the involvement of various individuals. Others view it as groundbreaking, as RICO prosecutions typically target financial schemes, not election interference.
Willis’s ability to use RICO might enable her office to pressure individuals from the bottom up. However, opinions vary regarding the appropriateness of charging lower-level individuals in the Trump case.
Although some see the case against Trump as full of public facts pointing to criminal conduct, others question whether it truly fits the definition of racketeering. Legal experts believe the Georgia case could be the toughest challenge Trump faces, as the ongoing prosecutions in other jurisdictions could provide evidence and strategies for Willis’s case.
While some possible defenses may be raised, legal experts caution against underestimating the challenges of litigating against a former President like Trump. Regardless of the arguments, the case is expected to be fiercely fought given Trump’s nature as a fighter.