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State law – sometimes referred to as “little RICO” – can be invoked with evidence of just three crimes involving a company or other company and a prison sentence of up to 25 years and a mandatory minimum duration of one provide for up to three years.
“It’s a very serious crime,” said Michael Shapiro, a defense attorney who prosecuted corruption cases in New York. “Certainly there are many things an organization or company could do to counter corporate corruption, if all of them are done with the aim of illegally increasing the company’s revenues. … It’s an umbrella under which everything else fits. “
Despite a series of legal battles over access to Trump’s tax returns and Trump Organization records, no charges have been brought against the Trump Organization, Donald Trump, or current Trump Organization officials. A spokesman for Vance’s office declined to comment on whether prosecutors will bring charges under the Corporate Corruption Act.
Trump Organization lawyers didn’t respond to requests for comment, but Trump himself has condemned Vance’s ongoing investigation as a politically inspired witch hunt.
“This is purely political and an affront to the nearly 75 million voters who backed me in the presidential election and it’s being pushed by highly partisan Democratic prosecutors,” Trump said in a statement Tuesday after it was reported that Vance was holding a special grand Jury attacked had to hear testimony about possible crimes committed by the Trump organizations.
“New York City and the state suffer from the highest crime rates in their history, and instead of persecuting killers, drug traffickers, human traffickers and others, they are following Donald Trump,” added the former president.
The Vance team has reportedly investigated a wide range of Trump and Trump Organization activities, including whether Trump employees knowingly submitted inflated property valuations to lenders and insurance companies while underestimating the values for tax purposes, according to the New York Times has set out in detail.
Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen made similar claims during the House testimony in 2019 and worked with Vance’s office after serving in federal prison on multiple charges.
As reported by CNBC, prosecutors are investigating potential financial misconduct on several properties, including Trump’s Seven Springs Estate in Westchester County. New York attorney general Letitia James, who recently agreed to coordinate her efforts with Vance, also reviewed ratings of Trump Tower in Chicago and Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles, according to a lawsuit last year.
Prosecutors have also investigated financial payments made to two women in bids during the 2016 campaign to prevent stories of alleged sexual encounters with Trump from being leaked. Lawyers said alternative explanations for the payments could violate New York law if incorrect entries are made in business records.
Not all lawyers believe that portraying Trump’s entire business empire as a criminal company or making an umbrella charge that appears to be a good idea is a good idea.
“Can you imagine a defense attorney standing up and saying, ‘Are you saying that Donald Trump’s entire business is a criminal organization?’” Asked Jeremy Saland, a former Manhattan attorney who is now in private practice is.
Saland said prosecutors would probably be better off just trying to bring certain tax or business fraud charges than trying to broaden the case.
“Why clutter and complicate something that could be pretty simple?” he said. “Why make the water muddy? Why give a defense attorney something that might confuse a jury and be able to crow that they beat a charge in a motion for dismissal? “
Saland also noted that the penalties for crimes such as high-quality tax fraud are similar to corporate corruption.
One of the challenges prosecutors may face is the New York State Extortion Act deadlines. The government would have to prove that two of the crimes charged in the past five years were committed. That means suspected crimes committed during the height of the Trump campaign in 2016 could lose their ability to trigger the “little RICO” law in the coming months.
However, if prosecutors can meet those timing requirements, invoking New York extortion law could allow them to back up their case with evidence of previous episodes of wrongdoing or episodes that they cannot individually bill, attorneys said.
New York’s Corporate Corruption Act – part of the Organized Crime Act – was passed in 1986 and was modeled on the better-known federal law of 1970, the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
The measures were originally billed to crack down on the mafia, drug gangs and companies dealing with organized crime. Over time, however, the courts ruled that general laws were not limited to such uses and could be used against such things as anti-abortion protesters threatening to use violence or blocking clinics.
The laws “were all designed for organized crime, but the courts have broad applicability under the terms of those laws,” Anello said.
Former prosecutors and defense lawyers called Vance’s attempt to set up a special grand jury, first reported by the Washington Post on Tuesday, as logical.
“Impaneling one of these big juries almost always means that the prosecutor has decided, at least temporarily, to bring at least some charges to the grand jury for examining one or more charges. Typically, the exact outline of these charges, against whom and what they will look like, are not decided until much later in the life of the long-term grand jury, ”wrote Daniel Alonso via email, who served as assistant district attorney under Vance.
Alonso said a focus of the investigation was Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, whose personal income tax return has reportedly been audited. The New York Times reported that Manhattan’s district attorney appears to be seeking Weisselberg’s collaboration with the probe. “We’ll also have to wait and see,” said Alonso, now with Buckley LLP.
Other lawyers said if Vance files charges, the grand jury will almost certainly be involved.
“I was a special attorney. I’ve presented a lot of cases to a lot of big juries, ”Shapiro said. “The prosecutors work with the grand jury every day. … The natural thing is that everyone gets the idea that we are all on the same team. Ultimately, the grand jury will do what the prosecution tells them to do. … If that grand jury is asked to prosecute Trump and others after a few months, they will – 999 times out of 1,000 that they do. ”
Regardless of what charges prosecutors weigh, their decision to appoint a special grand jury means the probe will move forward.
“While that doesn’t mean the charges are certain, it is a necessary step towards the prosecution,” said Barbara McQuade, a former US attorney. “We have known for some time that the prosecutor received Trump’s tax return after a long struggle. It appears that these documents contained sufficient evidence of potential criminal activity for us to take this next step. ”
New York State law requires large juries to hear firsthand all statements made in an indictment. While FBI agents can easily rewrite testimony to large federal juries, the New York Rule requires greater evidential value.
“New York grand juries differ from federal grand juries in that hearsay is not allowed,” noted McQuade. “That means prosecutors have to produce first-hand witnesses, which may explain why the grand jury meets three days a week for six months.”
And in this case – as in many complex financial fraud cases – testimony could be critical, said Kan Nawaday, partner at Venable and former federal prosecutor.
“I doubt there will be a document on smoking weapons,” he said. “I think any investigation would have to be based on testimony, which – it has been reported – is why everyone believes that the ultimate target of the investigation is likely to be Allen Weisselberg or other leaders in the Trump organization, who are the day-to-day details of know how they ran their business. “
If prosecutors prosecuting the Trump organization followed the path of the “little RICO,” it would not be the first time a Trump company has been exposed to legal claims that its practices have resulted in blackmail. When Trump won the presidency in 2016, he was battling a class action lawsuit alleging that the activities of his Trump University real estate program were in violation of the federal RICO.
Trump’s attorneys vehemently denied the claim, arguing that plaintiffs were attempting to convert “garden diversity” fraud claims into a state extortion case. Trump’s team also pointed to a court ruling calling RICO “the process equivalent of a thermonuclear device”.
However, a federal judge ruled the lawsuit could be brought to court. After Trump won the 2016 election, he closed that case and included Trump University’s lawsuits for $ 25 million while still denying wrongdoing.