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Understanding RICO

Regardless of their political affiliation, most Americans can say that Donald Trump is not a boring presidential candidate. Aware of American interests, media outlets have tapped into this sentiment. Seeking to boost viewership, news outlets have capitalized on the buzz that follows Trump on the campaign trail by reporting on the latest tweets, past revelations or policy updates the candidate provides. For those fearing a vacuum in the media after the presidential election, Trump's presence is guaranteed to linger after the votes have been tallied due to his impending trial in California.

Responding to complaints filed by former students of Trump University, a federal judge in California has determined that a lawsuit against the presidential candidate will proceed. The trial has been scheduled for Nov. 28. At the heart of the trial is the issue of racketeering. Those filing suit argue that Trump lied when he promoted the university's staff as "elite" and handpicked by Trump. The former students reported that their payment of the school's tuition for real estate educational programs provided them with a printed certificate from the organization, no professionally recognized credentials and referrals of little value. That Trump University continued to solicit funds from the students without proving anything of worth in return is one reason the presidential candidate has been accused of racketeering.

Interested in learning more about this law? Here are a few RICO facts:

1. RICO used as a crime-fighting tool

For fans of "The Sopranos," the RICO statute is a familiar one. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act was created to prosecute groups that used legitimate businesses as a cover for illegal activities, such as embezzlement of funds. In the past, the statute was used to shut down criminal enterprises established by members of the Mafia. Crime bosses were seen as untouchable by law enforcement because they could argue that they were not directly involved in the commission of crimes connected with their organization.

2. The burden of proof required under RICO

Current guidelines have changed the requirements needing to be met in order to convict an individual under RICO: the accused owns or manages an organization that has engaged in illegal activities on a regular basis. Financial activities deemed illegal include money laundering, mail and wire fraud. Trump has been accused of committing fraud in promoting and profiting from Trump University's actions.

3. Repercussions of a RICO conviction

Those found guilty of committing crimes under this law are fined heavily: payment is required to cover the plaintiff's attorney fees and damages paid in restitution are tripled.

While RICO was initially designed to send crime bosses to jail, its application has been used in other cases, such as prosecuting members of the Catholic Church and pro-life activists. In some situations, RICO may be referenced in a lawsuit where its standards cannot be met.

Those accused of violating this law are encouraged to seek the guidance of a knowledgeable attorney to address strategy for defense.

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