Georgia’s RICO law: Its origin and operation

The 1980 Georgia General Assembly was concerned about “the increasing sophistication of various criminal elements,” so it adopted the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act that was patterned after a similar federal law.

RICO is often used to try to prove that a legal business was being used for illegal means, and in the beginning the law was used to prosecute those involved in drug trafficking or organized crime.

But in recent years prosecutors have also applied it to government officials accused of using their offices for personal gain — such as those named in the indictment against various former and current Atlanta public school officials.

To bring a case under Georgia’s RICO law, there must be at least two underlying felonies — such as fraud, bribery, murder and witness tampering, among others.

RICO allows prosecutors to include defendants charged with various crimes in the same indictment and to allege they were all part of an ongoing enterprise.