Anti-Mob Statutes Nationwide Lend Prosecutors New Muscle
WASHINGTON (AP) _ When authorities used complicated anti-racketeering laws last week to indict 18 members of an alleged Atlantic City-based mob family, they again were using sleek new weapons in the fight against organized crime.
Prosecutors say the Hollywood image of Elliott Ness vs. Al Capone is gone, replaced in reality by sophisticated attacks in which business audits offer more firepower than Tommy guns.
Members of the alleged Bruno crime family, including reputed leader Nicodemo ″Little Nicky″ Scarfo of Atlantic City, N.J., were rounded up in Philadelphia and southern New Jersey based on two sweeping indictments by a New Jersey grand jury.
Prosecutors said the charges - detailing an elaborate underworld enterprise of gambling, loan-sharking and ″severe beating and murder″- are designed to cripple the mob. Wars within Scarfo’s ring are alleged to have killed more than two dozen people in since the 1980 assassination of boss Angelo Bruno.
A key to the case is a New Jersey law patterned after the 16-year-old federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act known as RICO. This law and other statutes adopted in 23 states are becoming the lynchpins of organized crime cases.
The laws allow prosecutors to convict mobsters by proving a continuing criminal enterprise.
Instead of shutting down back-room gambling or catching loansharks breaking legs, authorities can show that the hidden businesses exist and prove who runs them, with wiretaps, business records and other evidence.
The laws also allow seizure of ill-gotten gains, including cash, securities and real estate.
-In New York, the Gambino family is believed to be ready to replace alleged boss John Gotti because RICO-style attacks have him facing decades behind bars.
-New England crime underboss Gennaro Angiulo was sentenced in April to 45 years for gambling, loan-sharking and RICO violations.
-A 2 1/2 -year probe by the President’s Commission on Organized Crime concluded that every state adopt a RICO-style statute.
″It’s an entirely different approach than what you saw 20 years ago,″ said John McGinley, who heads the FBI’s force of more than 200 agents in New Jersey. ″It really does give the government some terrific tools.″
″RICO is a tremendous tool,″ adds Thomas Greelish, U.S. attorney in Newark. Greelish used RICO last year to win indictments of 26 suspects whom he said ran the Luchese crime family in New Jersey and Florida.
But, prosecutors agree, proving racketeering is not easy. Obvious evidence such as fingerprints and bullet holes are much easier for juries to grasp than balance sheets and organizational charts.
″That’s not normal police investigation. ... The proofs are different,″ said New Jersey Attorney General W. Cary Edwards.
A federal judge in Tampa, Fla., in July threw out racketeering-based charges against alleged Florida crime boss Santo Trafficante Jr. The court accepted defense arguments that the government’s case was ″a house of cards.″
But, while Greelish admits prosecutors relying on RICO ″take on a tremendous burden,″ he asserts the advantages outweigh the potential pitfalls. RICO cases, according to federal and state enforcers, offer two unique advantages.
First, racketeering charges target an entire enterprise, not just bosses or key members. As in a legal business, Edwards explained, an underworld executive who quits or retires is simply replaced.
″The vice president gets promoted ... but the business continues,″ the New Jersey attorney general said.
Along with jailing members of a crime family, counterpart civil RICO laws can be used to take the cash and other assets from a criminal organization. New Jersey has begun civil action to seize funds from an alleged Genovese family gambling ring that Edwards said may have brought in $52 million a year.
″It’s like removing all of the cancer,″ explains Greelish. ″You don’t have to worry about it coming back.″
But civil RICO lawsuits are even more complex and unproven than criminal cases, the prosecutors warn.
″We won’t know how effective it is ... for at least five or 10 years,″ Edwards said.
Meanwhile, he said authorities are unlikely to drop traditional methods of managing the mob.
″We’re going to continue to harass them,″ Edwards said.