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RICO is one of the most complicated federal statutes you could possibly have to deal with as a criminal defense lawyer, and we’re gonna focus federal. There are states that have state RICO, but for my purposes, all of my RICO cases are federal. So this is a statute that most people have heard of in the news in the context of mafia. So it was passed in the 1970s, and that’s what it was passed to combat is corruption among crime families, predominantly really east coast, New York crime families’ mafia cases. But that’s not how it’s being used today. In modern day federal prosecution, there’s really only two areas where you see RICO prosecutions, and so the first is this is how the US Attorney’s office, the federal government, is trying to take down street gangs. Pretty month every month, there’s a huge takedown, which just means a lot of people getting arrested at once under the RICO statute for a particular gang. Example: 18th Street has been the subject of many indictments. The Mexican Mafia, also the subject of many indictments. RICO statutes try to take down these gangs and dismantle these gangs.
Then the second context in which you see RICO prosecutions modern day is white-collar stuff, and what I mean by that is embezzlement or money laundering. Right now I’m working on an alleged Chinese money laundering case that involves the banks of Hong Kong and other places internationally. And so what was once intended with a very specific purpose to take down mafia has expanded, and unfortunately the way in which it has expanded has resulted in a very unjust and unfair application of the laws. So what you see a lot is there are these really small, low-level players getting wrapped into that wider net that the RICO statute has cast, but that was not the intention of the statute at all. It was supposed to take down the heavy hitters, and too often these days what you’re seeing is a young kid who grew up poor and grew up brown or black who’s caught up in these indictments because he grew up in a gang neighborhood and sold drugs once, and all of a sudden, that kid is looking at ten to life, just like everybody else in the gang.
Los Angeles, CA criminal defense attorney Karen L. Goldstein talks about what sort of activity gives rise to a RICO prosecution.
Karen is the recipient of Trial Attorney of the Year 2020, The Jerry Giesler Memorial Award, by the Criminal Courts Bar Association (CCBA).