Racketeering: Understanding the legal consequences of scams
In the news:
According to WMGT news, police in Byron are looking for two men who are scamming elderly motorists by tricking them into thinking their cars are in need of immediate repairs. The scam goes like this: the men pour brake fluid behind the tire of a victim’s car and then warn them that it is dangerous to drive the car even a short distance. The two, who identify themselves as being mechanics, then offer to “repair” the leaking brake line so that they can get the vehicle to a mechanic who can make permanent repairs. After charging $50 to $100 the imaginary repairs are finished, and the pair drive off. At least six victims have come forward in this one county alone, with other victims in other counties reporting being victims to the same pair.
Then in January, according to the website of the Attorney General of Georgia, five individuals were indicted in Cobb County for allegedly defrauding elderly homeowners, at least 25 of them, out of $74,500. The five would operate in crews and picked out residences of elderly homeowners and would offer various services-from home cleaning services to roofing and driveway repair-and would quote a flat rate price. After the work was performed, the crew would tell the homeowner that the price quoted was a per volume price and much more materials were required for the job. Intimidation and domination would be used until the elderly homeowner paid up.
And finally, as reported by CBS Atlanta, a DeKalb county woman was recently sentenced to 43 years in prison for misrepresenting herself as a representative of Georgia Power and threatening that consumers make immediate payments or have their service disconnected. By threats and intimidation, the mostly elderly victims were coerced into giving out credit card information or send cash.
What do all the alleged perpetrators in these scams have in common? The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, otherwise known as RICO. Most people might relate this law to its origins in the federal law which is a tool used to crack down on organized crime. Its scope is much broader than that, however. Georgia has enacted its own version of RICO and it is directed at those who systematically engage in a pattern of illegal activities which are motivated by monetary gain or economic or physical threat or injury. The five individuals indicted in Cobb County were charged with violations of the state RICO law as was the woman convicted in DeKalb County. The penalties for a RICO violation under Georgia law are severe-any person convicted of the offense is guilty of a felony and is punishable by no less than five years in prison and no more than 20. In addition, the individual convicted may be sentenced to pay a fine of three times the value gained by such activities or $25,000, whichever may be greater.
The penalties for a violation of RICO are severe and the legal issues can be complex. Anyone charged with a RICO violation should immediately consult with an experienced Georgia criminal attorney.