Photo: Jordan Strauss
The federal anti-racketeering law has been used since the late 1970s to bring down mob bosses. Could it be used to prosecute Harvey Weinstein?
Lawyers for six actresses who say they were sexually assaulted by the movie producer filed a lawsuit Wednesday in New York arguing that Weinstein was, essentially, a racketeer who used a legion of assistants, casting agents, security firms, gossip writers and others to supply himself with a steady stream of unwilling sexual partners and silence their complaints.
Their anti-racketeering suit was filed in a civil court, but it prompted discussions about whether prosecutors could make a similar criminal case.
Maybe, said G. Robert Blakey, a professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame law school who helped write the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. But it wouldn’t be easy.
“It would take imagination and intestinal fortitude,” he said. “Prosecutors have been singularly lacking in both when it comes to women making complaints of sexual assault against powerful men.”
The law was drafted to bring down organized crime but it isn’t limited to it, Blakey said. It has been used by prosecutors used to go after rule-breaking Wall Street firms and corrupt government contractors. Federal prosecutors are currently using it to battle alleged bribery in global soccer in a trial ongoing in Brooklyn.
But a criminal anti-racketeering case also has many hurdles, Blakey said. Federal prosecutors would have to prove that a criminal enterprise existed, it affected interstate commerce and the defendant was associated with and engaged in racketeering. It would also have to be brought within five years of the conspiracy ending, he said. The racketeering statute is a federal law, though some states, like New York and California, have similar state laws.
The women suing Weinstein in civil court say the “Weinstein Sexual Enterprise” consisted of a long list of people who either enabled Weinstein’s assaults or covered them up.
Their claims were based partly on reporting by The New York Times and the New Yorker, both of which published exposes saying that Weinstein took extraordinary steps to conceal complaints, including hiring security firms to investigate reporters working on possible stories and working with other media to discredit women who might come forward.