This is the fourth in a series of posts in which I use the trial of former governor George Ryan and his co-defendant Larry Warner to illustrate the unfairness of the mail fraud and RICO statutes.
Like the mail fraud statute, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) lends itself to wide-ranging trials in which jurors may wind up judging the person rather than the charge. When Congress enacted this statute in 1970, its purpose was to address only one problem – the infiltration of legitimate businesses by organized crime. The very acronym RICO is an ethnic slur. Supporters expected the most frequently used provisions of the statute to be those forbidding (a) the investment of income derived from a pattern of racketeering activity in an enterprise and (b) the acquisition of an interest in an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity. The statute, however, was barely used at all in its early years.
Continue reading "The RICO Racket" »
This is the third in a series of posts in which I use the George Ryan trial to illustrate the unfairness of federal mail fraud and RICO prosecutions.
American courts ordinarily exclude “other acts” evidence. Although a defendant accused of purse-snatching may have been convicted a dozen times of purse-snatching, the jury will not learn of his prior convictions. This “character” or “propensity” evidence will be excluded on the theory that jurors should not be tempted to convict the defendant just because he appears to be a sleazy guy. They should focus only on the government’s accusation of a particular wrongful act at a particular time. The trial of George Ryan and Larry Warner will depart from this vision of justice. It will move toward the example set by Soviet trials for “hooliganism.” Ryan and Warner may be tried, in effect, for the federal crime of wheeling and dealing while sleazy (and, in Warner’s case, while rich and, in Ryan’s, while political).
Continue reading "Mail Fraud Sprawl" »
This is the second in a series of posts in which I use the George Ryan trial to illustrate the unfairness of federal mail fraud and RICO prosecutions.
The Mail Fraud statute, enacted in 1872, forbids “devis[ing] any scheme or artifice to defraud” and then placing something in the mail for the purpose of executing this scheme. The 1872 statute incorporated the common law concept of fraud, which consists of depriving someone of property by lying.
Continue reading "The Intangible Right to Honest Services" »
The trial of former Illinois governor George Ryan and his co-defendant, businessman Larry Warner, began in September and is expected to continue into January or February.This trial illustrates how prosecutors can use the federal mail fraud and RICO statutes to deny fair trials to defendants. Over the course of this wide-ranging trial, jurors will hear every allegation of criminal and non-criminal misconduct by Ryan and Warner that prosecutors have collected by threatening their former associates (and one former associate’s fiancée) with heavy mail fraud sentences of their own. The alleged misconduct will cover a twelve-year period and range from failing to register as a lobbyist, to accepting secret consulting fees from a presidential campaign, to giving low-number license plates to campaign contributors.
Continue reading "Why George Ryan Won't Get a Fair Trial" »