Is Using the RICO Law Overkill for Fighting Internet Crime?

By - January 9, 2014
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RICOYou probably know about the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations or RICO, Act. This law lets federal agents bright federal charges against anyone who is any part of a large criminal enterprise. But should we be using the RICO law to convict people who are involved in cybercrimes.

That very thing happened late last year when a federal jury for the first time came back with a guilty verdict against David Camez, 22, for his illegal work in, a Russian forum that has been called an illegal eBay for stolen IDs. Camez is facing as much as 40 years in prison.

Prosecutors think using RICO in this case is legitimate because that website caused $50 million in losses. According to the US Attorney for Nebraska, it is hard for us to grasp the size of the racketeering business. The Internet gives international criminals great access to US citizens.

But his defense lawyer, Chris Rasmussen, stated that the defendant was only 17 when he purchased his first fake ID from an undercover agent, and had no part in the running of the illegal website.

This begs the question whether or not the RICO law was used right in that case. Prosecutors tend to love RICO because it is a great hammer to beat defendants with.

However, some experts think that in some cybercrimes, prosecutors are using the RICO law to go too far. For example, some experts slammed the DOJ recently for trying to score cheap political points when they made a threat of jailing Reddit founder Aaron Swartz for 35 years. They did this just because he downloaded millions of academic articles from an academic database.

Swartz did this because he was protesting that database charging for those articles, many of which were supported by taxpayer dollars. In the end, Swartz killed himself. Later on, federal agents stated that even though they threatened Swartz with many charges, they only were going to recommend he be sentenced to seven years. As Swartz returned the articles he took, and the database requested that the government not prosecute him, it seems that a seven year sentence still seems rather severe.

Swartz could have pleaded to lesser charges of course; just because the feds hit you with a RICO charge does not mean you are guilty.

Camez made the decision early on to fight the racketeering charges levied against him. He insisted that even if he was guilty of the charges, he did not cause the government $50 million in losses.

The judge in that case did allow the RICO charges to go forward, and the jury came back with a guilty verdict. Some experts claim that a more realistic charge in a cybercrime case such as this would have been conspiracy, which would have brought only a 5 year prison sentence.

It appears that even though the RICO prosecution in this case was successful, it will be rarely brought in cybercrime trials. The proof is difficult to make the charge stick.