One consequence of a successful RICO prosecution, whatever the charges, is hard time.
“It’s like the nuclear bomb of state charges against non-violent offenders,” Atlanta defense attorney Steve Sadow, who was not involved in the case, said. “It carries such a heavy potential sentence — up to 20 years in prison. And Georgia’s parole board looks at it as a top-tier crime, so the chance of early parole is remote.”
RICO, Sadow said, “can take a run-of-the-mill criminal act and turn it into a severe crime with horrible consequences.”
Jack Martin, another defense attorney not involved in the case, agreed that RICO is a powerful weapon for prosecutors.
“It allows all sorts of evidence that wouldn’t be allowed in most other cases,” Martin said. “It also raises the possibility of someone being convicted of guilt by association.”
In this case, Fulton prosecutors said, the defendants turned Atlanta Public Schools into a racket.
“It seems to be a stretch to use RICO in a school system case,” Martin said. “But technically it can be used this way under the law.”
A Fulton grand jury initially charged 35 former educators with racketeering and other lesser felonies. Two of those defendants, including former Superintendent Beverly Hall, passed away. Twenty-one entered into guilty pleas and received sentences of probation.
As for those who went to trial and rolled the dice, “It was certainly an unwise risk in light of what was being offered,” Sadow said.