Racketeering law not just for mobsters

Kristina Davis (San Diego Union-Tribune) | January 12, 2014

SAN DIEGO — It may have been created to topple the mob in the 1970s, but the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act is being used nowadays to fight an array of criminal enterprises, including two North Park gangs rounded up in a sweep last week on allegations of sex and drug trafficking, murder, kidnapping and robbery.

Commonly referred to as RICO, San Diego prosecutors have used the federal law in recent years to go after a mortgage fraud ring, street gangs, the Arellano Félix drug cartel and the Mexican Mafia prison gang.

Since 2006, the law has been used against more than 200 defendants in San Diego, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. That includes the 24 alleged North Park gang members and associates charged in the indictment unsealed Wednesday, as well as 11 others charged in a separate North County Mexican Mafia indictment made public the same day.

Prosecutors say RICO is a powerful tool that allows them to address all of the crimes committed by an organization as a whole, rather than pursuing separate trials against many individuals.

“It gives a more complete picture of illegal activity,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Robinson, who heads the office’s gang cases.

In the North Park indictment, prosecutors spell out 137 specific crimes committed by a pair of gangs that law enforcement dubbed “BMS.”

The allegations include more minor crimes, such as cocaine sales and purse snatching, to the violence of choking-out a woman to force her into prostitution and murdering a pizza deliveryman — a series of acts committed from 1995 to 2013.

At a news conference last week, U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy described BMS as a “massive criminal enterprise” that focused its profitability on the trafficking of teenage girls and young women in hotel rooms in San Diego County and 22 other states. The members managed prostitutes, booked rooms, handled the finances, recruited girls and distributed drugs, authorities said.

Duffy referred to them as a “crime family” working together for the sole purpose of making money.

Proving the group is an enterprise acting toward a common goal will be important here and is one of the main arguments in any RICO case.

“While the RICO statute is one that is traditionally reserved for charges that are filed against organized crime syndicates and mobsters, when you have a criminal street gang like the one that is involved in this case,” Duffy said, “the RICO statute is really the best tool that we have to go against street gangs who have joined forces with one another to become more sophisticated and prolific in the illicit business that they are pursuing.”

The law also provides for the most severe penalties possible, she said.

At least 14 of those arrested in San Diego have appeared before a judge and entered not guilty pleas. Others were either already in custody, arrested in Arizona and New Jersey, or fugitives.

Defense attorney Brian Watkins, who represents one of the accused pimps, Robert Banks III, aka “Pimpsy,” said the group is more a collection of friends rather than a gang.

Read more at: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2014/jan/12/racketeering-rico-north-park-gang-sex-trafficking/]

Photo credit: John Gibbins

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