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In charging Trump, the Atlanta-area DA relies on RICO law. Here's what it is

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis poses for a portrait on April 19 in Atlanta.
Brynn Anderson
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis poses for a portrait on April 19 in Atlanta.

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In charging former President Donald Trump and his allies, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is relying on a particular aspect of Georgia state law.

So what is a RICO charge, and why is Willis applying it to alleged election interference?

Georgia's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute allows prosecutors to pursue criminal enterprises, and it was based on — and is broader than — the federal RICO law.

That federal act was established to target organized crime activities like money laundering, bribery, drug trafficking and other serious offenses.

Georgia's version says that attempting or soliciting any of the mentioned crimes can count as a predicate act.

Willis is no stranger to using RICO, like when her office announced sweeping RICO charges against a gang that allegedly targeted celebrities and high-profile Atlanta-area homes in a robbery ring last year.

"RICO is a tool that allows a prosecutor's office and law enforcement to tell the whole story. We use it as a tool so they can have all the information they need to make a wise decision," Willis explained. "The reason that I am a fan of RICO is I think jurors are very, very intelligent."

Willis is also no stranger to telling that story in less typical ways, like using RICO to prosecute a group of Atlanta educators as part of a widespread cheating scandal.

The 2020 election interference case comes as Willis is also prosecuting Atlanta-based hip hop artist Young Thug and others by arguing his record label Young Slime Life is a criminal organization.

Copyright 2023 Georgia Public Broadcasting

Stephen Fowler
Stephen Fowler is a political reporter with NPR's Washington Desk and will be covering the 2024 election based in the South. Before joining NPR, he spent more than seven years at Georgia Public Broadcasting as its political reporter and host of the Battleground: Ballot Box podcast, which covered voting rights and legal fallout from the 2020 presidential election, the evolution of the Republican Party and other changes driving Georgia's growing prominence in American politics. His reporting has appeared everywhere from the Center for Public Integrity and the Columbia Journalism Review to the PBS NewsHour and ProPublica.
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