Q&A With Man Who Created RICO Act


"If left alone for any length of time, the mob will make a comeback. It is a sickness of capitalism. Free markets and black markets breed it."

--G. Robert Blakey

We recently conducted an interview via email with G. "George" Robert Blakey, who drafted the RICO act (PDF), which President Richard Nixon signed into law on October 15, 1970.

Blakey believes the JFK assassination was the result of a conspiracy that included the American Mafia.

Tne John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations were of great interest to Blakey, who served as chief counsel and staff director to the House Select Committee on Assassinations from 1977 to 1979. In this role he investigated the assassinations, leveraging new developments in forensic science to reexamine evidence.

Blakey is also the co-author of The Plot to Kill the President (with Richard Billings) in which the two state their belief that JFK was murdered as part of a conspiracy that included Lee Harvey Oswald as well as "at least one gunman firing from the Grassy Knoll. Blakey came to the conclusion that the Mafia boss Carlos Marcello organized the assassination. The book was since reissued in paperback as Fatal Hour: The Assassination of President Kennedy by Organized Crime.

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act provides for extended criminal and civil penalties for crimes committed as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise. It allows syndicate leaders to be tried for crimes that they ordered or assisted others to carry out.

Blakey, while an adviser to the United States Senate Government Operations Committee, drafted the law under the supervision of committee chairman Senator John Little McClellan.

Under RICO, a person who has committed "at least two acts of racketeering activity" drawn from a list of 35 crimes—27 federal and eight state crimes—within a 10-year period can be charged with racketeering if such acts are related in one of four specified ways to an "enterprise."

The law has been used to prosecute members of the Mafia, outlaw biker clubs and white-collar criminals.

The first mobster charged with RICO was Genovese boss Alphonse Frank "Funzi" Tieri. He was convicted of being ''the boss of a family of La Cosa Nostra'' in New York City on Nov. 21, 1980, after a month-long trial connected him to a ''pattern of racketeering'' that included "extortionate loans, threats to a restaurant owner and fraud at the Westchester Premier Theater," as the New York Times reported in Tieri's obituary.

On Jan. 23, 1981, A federal judge, calling it a ''tragedy'' for an elderly, ill man to go to prison, nevertheless meted out to Tieri a 10-year sentence. Tieri died around two months later while free on bail.

"The mob is, in fact, a shadow of its former self. 5,000 made members in 1963; at best, 1,500. 22-24 families across the country. Today, NYC. 5 down to 2."

Blakey was instrumental in showing the Feds how to use RICO to put the squeeze on the American Mafia. (One of his tutorials on this topic was famously interrupted when the pagers of the many FBI agents in the room started sounding, in December 1985. Paul Castellano had just been slain.)

I asked Blakey about a perceived new generation of "creative" RICO defenses that started popping up following John "Junior" Gotti's successful attempt to avoid prison time by posing a "retirement" defense. (Defense attorneys no longer argue that there's no Mafia--an admittedly Herculean task today.)

Do these new defenses have a snowball's chance in hell of changing the game between gangster and prosecutors was the primary question posed to Blakey.

Readers of this site may remember a couple of posts on this subject, including how attorneys for former Bonanno boss Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano had forged what I called "The Captain McCluskey defense," meaning blame the witness or victims for getting involved with the mob.

Anthony J. Arillotta had his reputation impugned in open court by defense attorneys -- for having broken omertà, of all things.

It's a kind of "so what" defense that admits the mob exists -- a no-no in the days of John Gotti and other old-time bosses, most of whom are dead now -- but also ties it to the sentiment that the Mafia really is a sort of Honorable Society, and that those who break this code deserve what they got/get. (Some of you may very well believe in this argument. This writer does not.)

A "not guilty" verdict is not necessarily the goal; a hung jury or anything other than a "guilty" verdict is.

The email to Mr. Blakey was at the request of his assistant, who advised us during our phone call that that was the best way to reach him after she explained his tight schedule. Theoretically, the email was supposed to lead to a phone call. We included some questions in the email to give Mr. Blakey an idea of what we were going to ask him about.

"The smart defendants don't hire lawyers.... They save the money, stand up and take their punishment like men, which is, after all, what they are supposed to do."

He's a busy -- of course -- so he simply typed his insights into our email and hit "reply." So if we had had him on the phone, say, we would have sought more elaboration, especially toward the end of the questions. His answers increased in brevity, the soul of wit, however. His workload may have increased before his eyes as he typed his responses. But we are indeed happy with what we got. I, for one, didn't expect him to respond to the email.

Blakey is a man of few words. He can be.

Using the Q&A format obviously is best suited here; it allowed me to preserve wholly Blakey's stylized wording; his fresh,succinct replies. We get to witness an informed, nimble mind at work, the very gray matter that conceived, designed and executed the playbook that caused the American Mafia's downfall.

Blakey's responses are provided here unedited (except for minor grammatical issues, the stray typo or two). 

Cosa Nostra News (CNN): What do you think about the "novelty" defenses attorneys are developing for their mobster clients on trial for RICO crimes?

G. Robert Blakey: Legally, not dramatically, defenses, in the conventional sense, don't exist against RICO. Defense in the criminal justice sense reflect the nature of the crime: murder, rape, robbery ... a crime of a single person against a single person on a single day and a single place. Murder: Link the hand to the body equals guilt if you can produce a motive, though one is not required, save to answer the jury's question: Why? Yes, but insanity. Or self-defense. Rape; I know the lady not. I did not do it. Not there; somewhere else (a tragedy), but not me. But of course, but she consented. Robbery (like rape): insufficient identification, alibi, etc.

RICO is different. Not a crime on a single day, but a series. The defenses against single crimes don't work. Over a course of time: vulnerable to informants, turn-coat witnesses, and wiretaps and bugs. No real defense to the sound of your voice except a motion to suppress, but law and order judges (no other kind anymore) don't grant them anymore. Focus on a single day? No way. The prosecution throws in the garbage can, not once, but day after day. Truth be known, you don't really have a defense, and if you did, it will cost you too much to put it in. The smart defendants don't hire lawyers anymore. They save the money, and stand up and take their punishment like men, which is, after all what they are supposed to do.

CNN: Here are some examples of what we mean by "novelty" defenses: A witness has his reputation impugned in open court by defense attorneys because he broke omertà. Vinny "Gorgeous" Basciano may have had a guy killed, but, heck, that guy joined the mob and knew what risks he was taking.

G.R.B: Sound good. Make for good copy, but body photos tell the real truth. Mob hits are murders. The bodies of dead men tell tales. Good copy, but the convictions keep coming. The exceptions test the rule. We hear about them, because they are exceptions. A blind hog will find an acorn once in a while.

CNN: And Junior Gotti just explained -- four times -- "Hey, lemme alone, I retired, don't you know." Well, that last one actually worked.

G.R.B: Bad facts make bad prosecutions. Withdrawal requires you to plead to the offense (now, you are really in trouble: no alibi, no insanity, etc. is going to get you out), and then try to say you quit. On wiretap, unknown to you, and your are toast.

CNN: But if Junior Gotti can retire and beat a RICO case, maybe there are other creative, out-of-the-box ways to beat that massive club that [you] whittled at [your] desk to hammer the mob into oblivion.

G.R.B: The mob is, in fact, a shadow of its former self. 5,000 made members in 1963; at best, 1,500. 22-24 families across the country. Today, NYC. 5 down to 2. It is not sun down, but it is twilight. 9/11 is the best thing that ever happened to the mob: the FBI is now chasing other people. If left alone for any length of time, the mob will make a comeback. It is a sickness of capitalism. Free markets and black markets breed it.

CNN: As time goes on, we think RICO defenses will become increasingly colorful. Hell, they already are.

G.R.B: But not effective.

CNN: What do you think of these defenses?

G.R.B: More smoke than fire.

CNN: The goal is what? Can’t be a verdict of innocence – hung jury?

G.R.B: Anything but a jail sentence, the inevitable.

CNN: Do you think either defense (the one presented by Basciano's team or the one used in court against Anthony J. Arillotta for breaking omertà) has a shot?

G.R.B: Not much.

CNN: Do you think someone might hit on a defense one day that could "even the field" with RICO, or perhaps one day a very liberal administration may water it down?

G.R.B: No and no.