Donald Trump was indicted on more than a dozen charges by Fulton County District Fani Willis on Monday stemming from the former president’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia.
The grand jury approved charges against Trump for a violation of Georgia’s RICO law – or the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act – which accuses Trump of being part of a broad conspiracy to attempt to overturn the election result.
“Defendant Donald John Trump lost the United States presidential election held on November 3, 2020,” the indictment states. “One of the states he lost was Georgia. Trump and the other Defendants charged in this Indictment refused to accept that Trump lost, and they knowingly and willfully joined a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election in favor of Trump. That conspiracy contained a common plan and purpose to commit two or more acts of racketeering activity in Fulton County, Georgia, elsewhere in the State of Georgia, and in other states.”
Willis launched her investigation into Trump in early 2021, soon after he called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and pressured the Republican official to “find” the votes necessary for Trump to win the state of Georgia. At a campaign event Tuesday, Trump continued to insist it was a “perfect phone call.”
RICO is a statute the district attorney had spoken fondly of and used in unorthodox ways to bring charges against teachers as well as musicians in the Atlanta area.
In 2015, Willis was thrust into the national spotlight as a Fulton County prosecutor when she used Georgia’s racketeering statute to charge teachers, principals and other education officials in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal.
After a seven-month trial, Willis secured convictions for 11 of the 12 defendants charged with racketeering and other crimes related to cheating that was believed to date to early 2001, when scores on statewide skills tests began to rise in the 50,000-student school district.
“The reason that I am a fan of RICO is, I think jurors are very, very intelligent,” Willis told reporters in 2022 at a press conference about a gang-related indictment. “They want to know what happened. They want to make an accurate decision about someone’s life. And so, RICO is a tool that allows a prosecutor’s office and law enforcement to tell the whole story.”
Soon after Willis embarked on her Trump investigation, she retained attorney John Floyd – known for his depth of knowledge in racketeering cases – to assist her office.
In addition to allowing prosecutors to weave a narrative, Georgia’s racketeering statute allows investigators to pull a broader array of conduct into their indictments, including activities that took place outside of the state of Georgia but may have been part of a broader conspiracy.
Those convicted of racketeering charges also face steeper penalties, a point of leverage for prosecutors if they are hoping to flip potential co-conspirators or encourage defendants to take plea deals.
More about RICO: Simply put, racketeering means engaging in an illegal scheme. It’s used in RICO to describe 35 offenses, including kidnapping, murder, bribery, arson and extortion.
Congress passed the RICO Act in 1970 to combat organized crime. Since then, the law has been used to target some of the highest-profile Mafia members, including Antonio Corallo, head of the infamous Lucchese crime family.
Reporting from CNN’s Sara Murray, Michelle Lou and Brandon Griggs contributed to this post.