For John, BLUF: Citizens need to be alert to over zealous prosecutors. Nothing to see here; just move along.
Sometimes I am not sure what is driving Lowell Sun OpEd writer Peter Lucas. Today's offering is "U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz failed to catch the big fish". OK, so that is the headline, written by a headline writer, whose job it is to reel us in. For a headline writer there need be no real relationship to the story, or ground truth, as long as it reels us in.
But, on to the story. Mr Lucas does make the point that Federal Attorney Carmen Ortiz was going after, or at least appeared to be going after, the Speaker of the House in the General Court, Mr Robert DeLeo. In that she has, so far, failed. However, she may still try to turn one of the convicted, former Probation Commissioner John O'Brien and his two deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, between now and their sentencing.
Mr Lucas does take some time to talk about Mr Ortiz's use of the RICO statute to go after the three.
What should also concern people is that the three former Probation Department officials were charged and convicted under the draconian RICO statute. RICO is the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.The RICO statute was supposed to be narrowly frame and used to go after criminal enterprises. However, like many laws passed by Congress, it has grown well outside its original purpose. For example, it has been used to go after Pro-Life groups, although that was some time in the past. But, still, someone had to go to court and get the case thrown out. Brings to mind the paper, Ham Sandwich Nation: Due Process When Everything Is a Crime.
It was passed in 1970 to go after the Mafia and drug kingpins, as well as the crimes of murder, arson, bribery, gambling, prostitution, extortion, counterfeiting, terrorism and kidnapping.
Over the years, it has been expanded to include street gangs, corrupt police departments, drug cartels and white-collar crimes, such as mail, wire and securities fraud.
Defendants convicted of several counts of mail fraud, racketeering and conspiracy under RICO, as these three are, face up to 20 years in federal prison on each count, as well as fines up to $250,000.
So, to sum up, here is what I think Mr Lucas was trying to say. Ms Ortiz went after Mr DeLeo, and failed.♠ She used the RICO statute (a shot gun) to do what should be have been a simple corruption case (fly swatter needed). Patronage is not illegal. Taxpayer money was wasted by General Court patronage and corruption, but it was also wasted by Ms Ortiz in this trial. It is time to fix RICO. It is time to rein in Prosecutors.
Regards — Cliff
♠ Of course we could ask why Massachusetts AG Martha Coakley was sitting on the sidelines.