What’s Under The Underside: RICO Edition

There are some other statutes which might be intriguing the office of the Special Counsel beside the ones discussed in the previous two posts.  Based on what we know from already public information there’s room for credible speculation about other laws the current Oval Office occupant, his family, associates, or perhaps even himself have potentially violated.

RICO.  Enacted in 1970 the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act includes elements which may (or may not) be incorporated in some of the Oval Office occupant’s business practices.  The Department of Justice explains:

It is unlawful for anyone employed by or associated with any enterprise engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce, to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such enterprise’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity or collection of unlawful debt. 18 U.S.C.A. § 1962(c) (West 1984).

And here are the basics:

“A more expansive view holds that in order to be found guilty of violating the RICO statute, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) that an enterprise existed; (2) that the enterprise affected interstate commerce; (3) that the defendant was associated with or employed by the enterprise; (4) that the defendant engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity; and (5) that the defendant conducted or participated in the conduct of the enterprise through that pattern of racketeering activity through the commission of at least two acts of racketeering activity as set forth in the indictment.”

The Department of Justice outlines the definitions of several crucial words and phrases in its publication quoted above, and IF the Special Counsel is looking into possible violations of the RICO Act, then they will have to meet the intent and letter of the law regarding the acts alleged to be unlawful.  Now what might the Office of the Special Counsel find of interest?  For the sake of brevity in this matter, let’s look at two examples —

There’s that Tower in Panama.  This involved “selling a few condos” a venture accomplished with the assistance of Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, who is now a fugitive. The following item may have grabbed the attention of the Mueller team:

“The investigation revealed no indication that the Trump Organization or members of the Trump family engaged in any illegal activity, or knew of the criminal backgrounds of some of the project’s associates. But Ventura said that the Trumps never asked any questions about the buyers or where the money was coming from.” [NBC]

Who know what, or perhaps deliberately avoided knowing what and by whom, could be of interest to future jurors?

“All that must be shown is: (1) that the defendant agreed to commit the substantive racketeering offense through agreeing to participate in two racketeering acts; (2) that he knew the general status of the conspiracy; and (3) that he knew the conspiracy extended beyond his individual role. United States v. Rastelli, 870 F. 2d 822, 828 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 982, 110 S. Ct. 515, 107 L. Ed. 2d 516 (1989).” [DoJ]

Prosecutors advise that the Due Diligence factor may be in play:

“Legal experts contacted by Reuters said the Trumps should have asked those questions. Because Panama is “perceived to be highly corrupt,” said Arthur Middlemiss, a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan and a former head of JPMorgan’s global anti-corruption program, those who do business there should perform due diligence on others involved in their ventures. If they fail to do so, he told Reuters, they risk being liable under U.S. law of turning a blind eye to wrongdoing.”  [NBC]

Eyes may well have been blind to some Russian Mafia money, some money laundering, and some cash moving via drug cartels.  [NBC] See also reporting in The HillReuters.

Maybe the antics associated with the Panama project should not have come as much of a surprise, the Washington Post published a report on Trump associations with underworld characters in the morass that was New York City construction and corruption early in his career.  The Atlantic summarized the atmosphere, and the times Trump has skated away from actual legal action against him:

“Trump has been linked to the mafia many times over the years, with varying degrees of closeness. Many of the connections seem to be the sorts of interactions with mobsters that were inevitable for a guy in the construction and casino businesses at the time. For example, organized crime controlled the 1980s New York City concrete business, so that anyone building in the city likely brushed up against it. While Trump has portrayed himself as an unwitting participant, not everyone agrees. There have been a string of other allegations, too, many reported by investigative journalist Wayne Barrett. Cohn, Trump’s lawyer, also represented the Genovese crime family boss Tony Salerno. Barrett also reported a series of transactions involving organized crime, and alleged that Trump paid twice market rate to a mob figure for the land under Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. Michael Isikoff has also reported that Trump was close to Robert LiButti, an associate of John Gotti, inviting him on his yacht and helicopter. In one case, Trump’s company bought LiButti nine luxury cars.”

And as of September 19, 2017 Newsweek reported that the Office of Special Counsel was tracking Trumpian maneuvers as if they were part of an organized crime operation.

Then, there’s Felix Sater.   An article in Politico opens the discussion, and offers more background information.  The Washington Post (2016) provides some initial information specifically about Mr. Sater and Mr. Trump:

“On the 24th floor of Trump Tower, in an office two floors below Donald Trump, Felix Sater was trying to revive his career. The Russian-born businessman had already done a stint in prison for stabbing a man in the face with the stem of a margarita glass, and he was now awaiting sentencing for his role in a Mafia-orchestrated stock fraud scheme — all the while serving as a government informant on the mob and mysterious matters of national security.

But Sater and his business partners had an idea: They would build Trump towers in U.S. cities and across the former Soviet bloc. Sater pitched it to Trump, who gave Sater’s company rights to explore projects in Moscow as well as in Florida and New York.” (emphasis added)

Once more there are dots: Sater. Mafia. Russians. Trump.  Predictably, the Oval Office occupant experienced memory loss concerning his knowledge of Mr. Sater:  “Trump has repeatedly said he barely remembers Sater. In sworn testimony in 2013, Trump said he wouldn’t recognize Sater if they were sitting in the same room. In an interview last year with the Associated Press, he said, “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it.”  If this sounds familiar it should, because we’ve now gone through a load of faulty memory moments in regard to George Papadopoulos, who went from sitting in a principals meeting with Trump (see photograph everyone on planet Earth has seen at least once) to “coffee boy.”  And thus Mr. Sater has moved from getting the rights to promote Trump projects in Moscow to “gee, I don’t know him.” A predictable pattern of Trumpian de-recognition.

For additional information see:  The Nation, New York Magazine, New York Times, New York Times.  (A nice hot shower is highly recommended after reading these articles.)

We might end this segment with Sater himself:

“Even allowing for Sater’s long-established record as a liar and self-promoter, there’s plenty here for Mueller and other investigators to dig into. And Sater, too, seems to believe that something big is coming. In his interview with New York magazine, he hinted ominously about the near future. “In about the next 30 to 35 days,” he told reporter Rice, “I will be the most colorful character you have ever talked about. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about it now, before it happens. And believe me, it ain’t anything as small as whether or not they’re gonna call me to the Senate committee.”

Please buckle up, this could be an E Ticket Ride.  What is contained in this short blog post is all from published sources; what we don’t see as yet is what additional information and testimony has been gleaned by the Office of the Special Counsel. Once again we can surmise with some certainty that the Mueller investigation has far more access to witnesses, information, and testimony than journalists ever had; and, will be just as thorough as the best of the reporters working on these stories.

Come for the Obstruction of Justice, and stay for the violations of the RICO Act?

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