25 December 2007

RICO & bin Laden

A comment on my bragging about my High School's Basketball team post:
Ted Kane said...

Hi and sorry for the OT, but I really want to find something out from someone with criminal law experience, of which I have none:
Was the RICO Act used to indict bin Laden in 1998 in the embassy bombings trial?

I keep seeing this mentioned, but can't seem to substantiate it. The indictment doesn't include the name of the act, nor its section number.

Also, no authoritative source turns up in searches for this reference.
Again, sorry for something this random and thanks if you can help.
- TK
No problem. Probably would have been better as an email, but it's an interesting question, so I will, in my beneficence, overlook it (in other words, don't sweat it Dude, it wasn't anywhere as bad as the spam and blatant lawyer's ads which I clean out all the time).

TK Pointed out to me the indictment for bin Laden. To be clear, it's a superceding indictment for the 1998 embassy bombings, not 9/11; I don't think the feds have indicted him for that, choosing instead to treat him as an enemy combatant instead of a criminal.

I'll admit, I didn't read thru the entire indictment. The feds would have to write a fifteen page memo to say "It's raining", including an explanation of its atmospheric causes, chemical composition, immediate and long term effects, and alleging the participation of co-conspirators (known, unknown, and unindicted). I read the headers to see the indicted charges and did a search for "18" to check citations to the federal criminal code. He's right, there's no RICO in it that I can find.

What is criminal RICO?

RICO's primary statutes are under 18 USC sections 1961 (definitions), 1962 (criminalization), & 1963 (punishment). Basically, RICO is a secondary criminalization; it is the combination more than one of a long set of felonies for the purpose of making money. Under 18 USC 1962, the four RICO crimes are
(a) It is illegal to spend money which proceeds, directly or indirectly, from the listed felonious activities.

(b) It is illegal to gain or keep control of an organization thru the listed felonious acts or by collecting an illegal debt.

(c) It is illegal for those involved in an organization to further the organization thru the listed felonious acts or by collecting an illegal debt.

(d) Conspiring to do any of the three crimes supra.
I can't claim to be an expert on either bin Laden or federal RICO. However, I think it would be hard to make this case.

Each of the subsections has a defense and the most probable, combining (c) and (d), leads into a nightmare religious argument.


(a) bin Laden is the son of an ultra-rich contractor. He was the source of funds for the organization, not vice-versa.

(b) bin Laden got and maintained control through his finances and demonstrated religious belief.

(c) bin Laden didn't do the bombings himself. However, the case that he was a conspirator can probably be easily made. The only problem is that this opens up a door to a religious argument I'm certain bin Laden would be happy to walk through. His argument would be that he wasn't acting for, or in the name of, al-Qaida. He was acting in God's name, for God's purpose. Do I think the defense would work? No. But why give him an excuse and stage to make such an argument? If the feds stick to a straight primary offense conspiracy (such as murder) whether he did it for God or al-Qaida is not relevant.

Why do people think bin Laden was charged under RICO?

There are a number of possible reasons people think there are RICO charges. From the beginning, attorneys have stated they expect it or that it is the most convictable offense. Putative co-defendants have been convicted under RICO. A civil RICO suit was filed against bin Laden.

The strongest source seems to have been a BBC documentary, The Power of Nightmares, which stated:
In January 2001, a trial began in a Manhattan courtroom of four men accused of the embassy bombings in East Africa. But the Americans had also decided to prosecute bin Laden in his absence. But to do this under American law the prosecutors needed evidence of a criminal organization, because, as with the Mafia, that would allow them to prosecute the head of the organization even if he could not be linked directly to the crime.
I've done as thorough a search of non-conspiracy theory websites as I could in a hour or so and I haven't found anything which indicates that, as part of the Trade Center bombing trial, bin Laden was charged with RICO violations or that he was tried in his absence. Federal prosecutors indicted him in his absence, but there's nothing surprising there - no defendant is present when a grand jury indicts him.

Maybe I'm wrong and there's something in the indictment I missed, but it looks to me that the RICO charge is a myth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It wasn't for the WTC bombing, it was for the African bombings.