‘Breakdown’ Episode 13: ‘Who’s Rico?’

Get to know the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, and how it’s been used by Fulton prosecutors in recent years

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act has been on the books for more than half a century, and Georgia’s version was enacted in 1980.

The 13th episode of Season Nine of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Breakdown podcast — “The Trump Grand Jury” — takes a deep look at RICO. The episode traces its origin as a prosecutorial weapon to take Mafia dons off the streets. It also looks at how RICO has been used in recent years against schoolteachers, a metro Atlanta sheriff and street gangs.

Legal experts following the Fulton County special purpose grand jury investigation into what happened here after the 2020 presidential election say that racketeering charges could ultimately be brought in this case.

“I’m a fan of RICO,” District Attorney Fani Willis said at a recent press conference, announcing charges against the alleged street gang Drug Rich.

Jurors who sit on cases are smart, take matters seriously and want to know the whole story about a case, Willis said. “So we use it as a tool so that they can have all the information they need to make a wise decision.”

Episode 13 — “Who’s Rico?” — also looks at a key member of U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham’s legal team: Don McGahn. McGahn is one of three lawyers hired by Graham who contends the U.S. Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause protects him from having to honor his out-of-state material witness subpoena and testify before the special grand jury.

ExploreThe latest on the Trump grand jury probe

McGahn’s defining legacy as former President Trump’s White House counsel will be getting dozens of vacant federal judgeships filled with steadfast conservative jurists.

Graham’s case is now before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, where six of the court’s 11 active judges were appointed by Trump during his one term in office. And three of those six judges were put on the court while McGahn was White House counsel and likely played a key role in their appointments.

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ExploreListen to previous seasons of the 'Breakdown' podcast