US mulls using Mafia prosecution laws against Capitol rioters

US mulls using Mafia prosecution laws against Capitol rioters

The Justice department of United States is considering whether members of the far-right groups involved in the attack on Capitol can be charged under federal laws, which are usually used against people involved in organised crime.

On January 6th an armed and angry mob of Trump supporters stormed Capitol Hill and clashed with police, which interrupted the formal congressional certification of Joe Biden. More than 170 people have been charged in connection with the attack.

A source spoke on condition of anonymity, “Using the RICO statute to charge people involved in the Capitol violence is being debated within the Justice Department, with no final decision made.”

RICO or the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act 1970 enables prosecutors to combat certain ongoing racketeering crimes such as murder, kidnapping, bribery and money laundering. This statue was crafted to help prosecutors convict top Mafia bosses, who ordered others to commit crimes. It provides for hefty criminal penalties including up to 20 years in prison and seizure of assets obtained illegally through a criminal enterprise. These cases are very complex and take years to develop; hence it requires approval from Justice Department leadership.

5 deaths were reported in the attack which inlcuded a police officer. It is still not clear if cases arising from it meet “statutory elements” necessary for a RICO charge. An official said, “This is something that is being mulled over in the halls of DOJ.”

Currently some Oath Keepers and Proud Boy members are facing the charge of obstructing an official government proceeding. It is known as a “racketeering activity.” The prosecutors in a RICO case would need to show that the far-right groups qualify as a “criminal enterprise” and that members of the enterprise engaged in a pattern of two or more related crimes beyond the Capitol riots.

The senior federal prosecutor for the District of Columbia, Michael Sherwin said that a wide range of criminal charges are being contemplated, including trespassing, assault and seditious conspiracy. He also said that he would charge people based on what the evidence showed.

The RICO act has been used by the prosecutors against Omar Abdel Rahman, known as the “Blind Sheikh”. He was convicted of plotting to bomb the United Nations and George Washington Bridge in New York.

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