Why Not Use The RICO Act To Pursue Wall Street Executives?

On January 22, 2013, the PBS program Frontline presented a documentary on what our American justice system has done to investigate and prosecute fraud emanating from the financial crash that began in September 2008. The documentary was titled The Untouchables. If you haven’t seen it you should. It is an excellent piece of investigative journalism by Martin Smith.

The main premise of the documentary was to uncover why there have not been any criminal cases brought against any senior Wall Street bank executives. If you say, there have been some cases brought against some individuals from Wall Street, then you would be correct. However, those cases were not for causes directly associated with the US$Trillions in wealth that were lost by US citizens and others around the world. If you’re interested, an excellent book, 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown by Simon Johnson and James Kwak, discusses the causes and who the senior executives were at the beginning of the crash.

Back in 1931, criminal kingpin Al Capone was successfully prosecuted and convicted by creative IRS investigators for tax evasion. Maybe it’s time for the USAG and states AGs to get creative also by using the RICO Act against Wall Street executives. Rather than low level investigations of individuals, a specific focus on the 13 bank ceos who met with President Obama on March 27, 2009 would go a lot further in building confidence in our financial system again. Those that can be charged under the RICO statute would face both criminal and civil penalties sufficient to hopefully deter another generation or 2 from following in their footsteps. There are 35 defined crimes in the statute and it only takes committing any 2 of those crimes to be charged with racketeering.


Eric Holder’s Justice Department needs to pursue criminal convictions and civil judgements against individual Wall Street executives.

As an amateur in understanding the intricacies of 18 USC Chapter 96 – RACKETEER INFLUENCED AND CORRUPT ORGANIZATIONS, I can only look at sources on the internet that point to similarities in Wall Street malfeasance and fraud where the RICO Act could be applied. Here are just a few: §1343 – Wire fraud ; §1344 – Bank fraud; § 1957 – Engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity. 

In part, Wikipedia’s definition states that the RICO statute “…allows for the leaders of a syndicate to be tried for the crimes which they ordered others to do or assisted them…”.

Everybody knows the roots of the RICO Act were to fight organized crime syndicates, but it has also been used in many other cases such as the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal and Michael Milken of Drexel Burnham Lambert. Both listed in the Wikipedia link above.

The best part about RICO is that prosecutors have a 10 year window in which to bring their case to trial. This will extend any statute limitations in order pursue justice for all the lives harmed by systemic banking and financial control frauds (see William K. Black essay) before and since September 2008.

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