The $108 million judgment against former East Chicago mayor Robert Pastrick in Indiana's landmark racketeering lawsuit could be the start of a trend, says Notre Dame law professor G. Robert Blakey.
Civil racketeering lawsuits could be used to win massive settlements from crooked politicians and to cripple political machines, much in the way the racketeering cases have been used to break up mob organizations and corrupt unions, said Blakey, who helped write the federal racketeering law and drafted the state's lawsuit against Pastrick.
The case was a first, Blakey said, but it should not be the last of its kind.
"It took 40 years for anybody to bring this kind of suit, but it finally happened," Blakey said. "Now we have a precedent. If you steal it, you have to give it back."
That precedent could easily be applied to former Illinois governors George Ryan or Rod Blagojevich, Blakey said. Or to incumbent East Chicago Mayor George Pabey, who was indicted in February by federal prosecutors who allege he had city workers renovate a home he owns in Gary.
"This establishes the principal of liability. It can be used in every other situation," Blakey said. "Why hasn't the attorney general in Illinois gone after George Ryan? I don't know."
A spokesman for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan did not return a call from the Post-Tribune.
The Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organization statute, or RICO, was the foundation of the civil lawsuit against Pastrick and co-defendants James Fife III and Frank Kollintzas. It was created in the 1970s to prosecute complex organized criminal enterprises.
A civil lawsuit such as the East Chicago RICO case won't end in jail time for a defendant, but it does allow the plaintiff -- a city, county or state -- to recover damages equal to three times the amount stolen or misused.
"This is exactly what RICO was intended to do," Blakey said. "There are still political machines in lots of cities."
One advantage a civil prosecution has over a criminal one is that a lower burden of proof is required in a civil case. In criminal cases, a jury must find a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But civil cases require a lower standard of guilt, and that a preponderance of evidence shows the defendant did what is alleged.
Tried on the criminal charge of murder in criminal court, O.J. Simpson was acquitted. Facing a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court, he was found liable and ordered to pay $35 million to the families of his victims.
Valparaiso attorney Bryan Truitt, whose clients include public corruption defendants Robert Cantrell, Roosevelt Powell and former Pastrick administration official Ed Maldonado, said he supports civil lawsuits instead of criminal prosecutions. "But I don't think you're going to see the government getting paid these massive judgment amounts," said Truitt, who said Maldonado settled out of the Pastrick RICO case without paying part of the $108 million because he already was ordered to pay $24 million in restitution from his criminal conviction.
"Going to any great expense by the government to get a huge judgment no one is going to pay would be pointless," Truitt said. "But they're going to be better able to pay if they're not in jail."
Thanks to Andy Grimm
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