Posted on February 7, 2021

U.S. Mulls Using Law Designed to Prosecute Mafia Against Capitol Rioters

Mark Hosenball and Sarah N. Lynch, Reuters, February 3, 2021

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, enables prosecutors to combat certain ongoing racketeering crimes such as murder, kidnapping, bribery and money laundering. The 1970 statute provides for hefty criminal penalties including up to 20 years in prison and seizure of assets obtained illegally through a criminal enterprise.

The sources, a current law enforcement official and a former official who recently left the federal government, said using the RICO statute to charge people involved in the Capitol violence is being debated within the Justice Department, with no final decision made. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity.

{snip} It is not yet clear if cases arising from it meet “statutory elements” necessary for a RICO charge, the former federal official said.


President Joe Biden’s administration has warned that domestic extremism is a growing threat following the Capitol rampage, a sharp departure from the way Trump regarded extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. {snip}


The RICO law was crafted to help prosecutors convict top Mafia leaders who ordered others to commit crimes. RICO cases are complex, often take years to develop, and require approval from Justice Department leadership.


Prosecutors have used it against other violent groups, such as one led by Omar Abdel Rahman, known as the “Blind Sheikh,” who was convicted of plotting to bomb the United Nations and George Washington Bridge in New York.

More than 170 people have been charged in connection with the Capitol attack that interrupted the formal congressional certification of Biden’s election victory over Trump and sent lawmakers into hiding for their own safety.

Democratic Senator Richard Durbin, tapped to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is advocating possible RICO charges. {snip}


Obstructing an official government proceeding, the charge some Oath Keepers and Proud Boy members are currently facing, is considered a “racketeering activity.”

Prosecutors in a RICO case would need to show that the far-right groups qualify as a “criminal enterprise” and that members of the enterprise engaged in a pattern of two or more related crimes beyond the Capitol riots.


In a RICO case, prosecutors must show a pattern of related racketeering crimes and a threat of continuing criminal conduct.

A Washington grand jury last month indicted three Oath Keepers members on charges that they conspired to forcibly storm the Capitol. Two Proud Boys members were indicted on charges they conspired with others to obstruct law enforcement from protecting the Capitol.

In a sworn statement, an FBI agent said Thomas Caldwell, a defendant in the Oath Keepers indictment, sent messages after the attack urging others to keep fighting.

“We need to do this at the local level,” Caldwell was quoted by the FBI as saying. “Lets storm the capitol in Ohio. Tell me when!”