Georgia RICO cases hit Trump, Giuliani and the rapper Young Thug — all from the same DA

The former president and 18 allies are being charged under the statute originally used to target organized crime.

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A law enacted to target organized crime and pioneered by Rudy Giuliani could bring down both a former president and a rapper in Georgia.

Donald Trump and 18 co-defendants are facing racketeering charges stemming from their alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election result in Georgia. A grand jury vote resulted in a 41-count indictment in Atlanta after an investigation by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

The indictment “alleges that rather than abide by Georgia’s legal process for election challenges, the defendants engaged in a criminal racketeering enterprise to overturn Georgia’s presidential election result,” Willis said at a press conference announcing the charges Monday evening.

Donald Trump, surrounded by people wearing summer clothes, raises two fists unconvincingly in the air.
Former President Donald Trump at the Iowa State Fair on Saturday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO, laws are used by prosecutors to target larger criminal organizations and their leaders, who may not have been directly involved in some of the offenses.

This is not the first major RICO case filed by Willis since taking office in 2021. In May 2022, she brought charges against 26 individuals including the Grammy Award-winning rap artist Jeffery Williams, also known as Young Thug, for allegedly leading a violent street gang known as Young Slime Life (YSL). Williams, like Trump, maintains he is innocent.

Giuliani and the origins of RICO cases

A young Rudy Giuliani at the microphone in front of a library of law volumes.
Rudolph Giuliani, U.S. attorney for New York's Southern District, holds a press conference on June 22, 1987, after 16 of 17 defendants in the "Pizza Connection" case were found guilty. (Yvonne Hemsey/Getty Images)

A federal RICO law was first enacted in 1970 with the intent to target the Mafia, but a number of states have their own legislation, including Georgia, which in 1980 passed a state law considered to be more expansive than the federal version.

“Georgia is a little bit of a different animal,” Chris Timmons, a former Georgia prosecutor, told Yahoo News. “The Georgia statute is based on the federal statute, but it is much broader, covering a much wider range of crimes, but also has some differences in terms of what it applies to.”

Giuliani is among the co-conspirators who were indicted by the grand jury. The former Trump lawyer, who faces 13 charges in total, was himself a trailblazing figure in the use of RICO.

During his time as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York in the mid-1980s, Giuliani used the federal law to target the Mafia, indicting the heads of the Five Families and earning guilty verdicts after a lengthy trial at which reading the verdict took 20 minutes owing to the number of charges brought. In 2007, the FBI revealed that the mob leaders had considered a hit on the prosecutor.

Giuliani leaned on his reputation for being tough on crime when he ran for New York City mayor, including helping to incite a riot of cops against the incumbent he was challenging. In another parallel with the Georgia investigation, in the lead-up to the 1993 election he went on to win, Giuliani’s campaign, expressing concerns over voter fraud, insisted that additional police be placed at polling stations.

In a story published Wednesday, a veteran New York mob attorney told The Messenger his clients were "f***ing thrilled" about Giuliani being charged. Civil rights attorney Ron Kuby told the outlet, "It is just delightful to watch the guy who expanded RICO prosecutions well beyond their original intent, and did so grasping for the biggest headlines, to watch him be indicted by the very law that he championed."

The Young Thug case

Young Thug onstage wearing dark glasses, a huge necklace, tight fuchsia pants dotted with glitter and a huge puffy jacket in a bright pink print.
Young Thug performs at the Lollapalooza Music Festival in Chicago in 2021. (Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

Charges were filed last May, and jury selection is now underway in the Young Slime Life RICO trial, where Williams is accused of conspiring to violate the state's RICO act and participating in criminal street gang activity. Twenty-eight people were charged in the 56-count indictment, with Willis alleging that they had “decided to become involved in a criminal street gang and really do havoc in our community.”

The 88-page indictment refers to several lyrics from more than a dozen of Williams’s songs, including some that are eight years old. Some experts say the use of creative expression against artists leads to an unfair trial.

“The initial indictment contained very few factual allegations about activity that Mr. Williams was accused of doing,” Jack Lerner, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, told Yahoo News in January, when jury selection began. “The vast majority of factual allegations about him involved his social media postings and lyrics.”

Page Pate, an Atlanta criminal defense attorney, said in an interview with Vice News that Willis is “unafraid of high-profile cases,” adding, “She’s more comfortable using the RICO statute than almost any other prosecutor in Georgia.”

In his client’s defense, Williams's attorney Brian Steel told media outlets that Williams "has committed no violation of law, whatsoever. We will fight this case ethically, legally and zealously. Mr. Williams will be cleared.”

Why prosecutors are invoking RICO against Trump

Timmons says RICO charges were not the only option for Willis. “She just could have charged it as a general conspiracy-type case. But I think everybody knew that a RICO indictment was coming here, because Willis was part of the prosecution team that prosecuted the Atlanta Public Schools case,” he said, citing the 2009 case against the Atlanta school system for cheating on state-administered tests.

Trump’s attorneys described the announcement of charges as “shocking and absurd,” adding that they "look forward to a detailed review of this indictment, which is undoubtedly just as flawed and unconstitutional as this entire process has been.”

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp defended his state’s elections on Tuesday, rebutting a Truth Social post from Trump and writing, “The 2020 election in Georgia was not stolen. For nearly three years now, anyone with evidence of fraud has failed to come forward — under oath — and prove anything in a court of law.”

Willis said the former president and his co-defendants have until Friday, Aug. 25, to turn themselves in and that she plans to request a trial date within the next six months. Even before accounting for Trump’s crowded legal calendar, Timmons said the time frame is likely to prove problematic.

“Six months is an incredibly ambitious timetable for any RICO case,” he said. “Let alone a RICO case that has national implications.”