Have you Been Charged with Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act?
A charge under the RICO Act is a severe crime and does not need to be taken lightly. It can have lasting effects on your life, so it is important to hire an Attorney from the very beginning. Lawson and Berry and their team of Georgia RICO Lawyers have over 20 years of experience. Let their experience work for you. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.
Georgia Law on RICO
O.C.G.A. §16-14-4 outlines four ways a person can be guilty of violating the Racketeering statute:
- By directly or indirectly acquiring or maintaining any interest in or control of any enterprise, real property or personal property through a pattern of racketeering or the proceeds derived from the activity;
- By directly or indirectly participating in an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity while being employed by, or associated with, the enterprise;
- By conspiring or endeavoring to directly or indirectly acquire or maintain any interest in, or control of, any enterprise, real property or personal property through a pattern of racketeering activity or the proceeds derived from a pattern of racketeering activity; or
- By conspiring or endeavoring to directly or indirectly participate in an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity while being employed by, or associated with, the enterprise.
RICO is a crime that has a federal statute and a Georgia state statute. The Georgia statute defines racketeering more broadly than the federal law does. In addition, it takes less to prove a pattern of racketeering activity under the Georgia statute than the federal one. However, the largest difference between the two is that Georgia does not always require the existence of an enterprise to constitute racketeering.
What is a Pattern of Racketeering Activity?
There are many crimes that can be used to show a pattern of unlawful conduct. The predicate crimes that fall under the RICO statute in Georgia include drug offenses, homicide, bodily injury, arson, burglary, forgery, theft, prostitution, obscene materials, bribery, witness tampering, perjury, evidence tampering, commercial gambling, distilling liquors and alcoholic beverages, firearm violations, securities violations, credit card fraud, computer crimes, kidnapping, carjacking, and making terroristic threats.
The Courts have concluded that a pattern consists of at least two acts of racketeering activity in furtherance of one or more incidents, schemes, or transactions that have the same or similar intent, results, accomplices, victims or methods of commission or otherwise are interrelated by distinguishing characteristics and are not isolated incidents. The incidents do not have the occur at the same time, but the Court has stated that at least one of the incidents must be within four years of a prior incident of racketeering activity. O.C.G.A. § 16-14-3(4)(A)
Georgia Case Law on Racketeering
An example of a defendant being convicted under the RICO statute can be found in Kilby v. State. 335 Ga. App. 238, (2015). The defendant, Kilby, was the director and a fiduciary of an animal shelter. During her time as director, Kilby linked two PayPal accounts that were intended for donations to the animal shelter to her own personal accounts and routed to herself a total of $10,500. In addition, she instructed her employees to give all the cash to her and to not give out receipts. After years of this occurring, an employee reported her to an investigative team of a local television network. The investigator discovered what Kilby was doing, and she was subsequently indicted for 29 counts of theft by taking and 29 counts of computer theft.
During the trial, Kilby argued that there was insufficient evidence to support theft by taking and racketeering. She specifically argued that the State failed to prove that the money she directed to her personal accounts was the property of the animal shelter. However, two members of the Board of Direction of the animal shelter testified that Kilby was never authorized to solicit funds and deposit them into her personal bank account. Moreover, Kilby testified that the transactions involved donation money that was intended for and belonged to the animals. Therefore, the jury found Kilby guilty of racketeering based upon the theft by taking incidents.
What has to be Proven to be Convicted
To be convicted of violating the RICO Act, the State must demonstrate that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That involves showing a pattern of unlawful conduct and that the offenses committed were ones included under the RICO Act. A couple of isolated incidents will not be sufficient to establish a pattern.
Also, the conduct must be criminal. The person committing the racketeering activity must have the requisite intent to be found guilty of the crime.
Penalty for a RICO Conviction in Georgia
A person convicted of a crime under the RICO Act will be guilty of a felony and will be punished by either prison or a fine. If the penalty is prison, the term will be between five and twenty years. If the penalty is a fine, it will not exceed the greater of $25,000.00 or three times the amount of any pecuniary value gained by him or her from such violation. The fine amount will be determined by a hearing.
In addition to prison time and or a fine, the defendant could also be subject to civil punishments as well. A judge may order a defendant to give up any business interest in a property that was gained through violating the RICO statute. Another option is that the judge could enforce an injunction or prohibition on the defendant from engaging in the same type of industry as the business they were convicted for.
Victims can also file actions against the defendant for three times the amount of damages they sustained. If appropriate, they can also seek punitive damages.
Georgia Defenses to a RICO Charge
Insufficient Evidence to Establish a Pattern: Evidence that just shows two isolated incidents will not be enough to show a pattern.
No connection between the injury and predicate act. When commencing an action in civil court, the evidence must show that the predicate act (the crime) was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries. If not, then the plaintiff cannot assert a claim under the RICO Act.
I did not have any direct association with the crime being carried out. The Georgia RICO Act states that a defendant can still be convicted if they conspired to violate any of the provisions or if they indirectly participated in racketeering activity. Therefore, you can still be guilty under the RICO Act even if you did not directly participate.
What are not Defenses
There was no evidence of an enterprise: Georgia does not require that there is an actual enterprise. They only require that the accused acquired any real or personal property, including money, through a pattern of racketeering activity. Cobb County v. Jones Group, 218 Ga. App. 149, (1995).
There were years between the incidents: Georgia law O.C.G.A. §16-4-3(4)(A) states that as long as the incidents occurred within four years of each other, then it can still be considered a pattern of racketeering activity.
A conviction under the RICO Act can be damaging to both you and your loved one's future. It is crucial that you retain counsel that cares about your future as much as you do. Lawson and Berry and their team of Georgia Attorneys truly care about you and your case. They will be available to you 24/7- nights, weekends, and holidays to ensure you get the best representation possible. Call us today for a free case evaluation.