'Perfect irony': Giuliani faces RICO charge similar to the one he popularized as prosecutor
The former U.S. attorney revolutionized use of the RICO statute decades ago.
As an upstart chief prosecutor in perhaps the most prestigious legal office in the country, Rudy Giuliani in the mid-1980s made use of a novel way to quell the scourge of New York organized crime -- leveraging a brand new, little-known federal statute called Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations.
Using RICO, as it's known, Giuliani managed to charge dozens of mobsters with seemingly unrelated crimes, all under the umbrella of one overarching scheme. At the time, it was a revolutionary use of federal law and it later served as a model for state and federal prosecutors around the country.
As U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Giuliani's successful prosecutions of New York's storied crime families made him a media darling and launched Giuliani's political career. But now, four decades later, Giuliani finds himself on the other side of his own legal legacy -- facing Georgia state criminal RICO charges in the Fulton County district attorney's case against his longtime boss, former President Donald Trump, and 18 of his allies.
"This is perfect, perfect irony," said Anthony Cardinale, a veteran defense attorney who represented "Fat Tony" Salerno, the former head of the Genovese crime family, in 1986. "Giuliani is going to be sitting in a courtroom, pray to God ... forty years after he started bringing these exact types of cases."
The indictment of Giuliani, filed Monday in Georgia, marks the latest inflection point in his arc from star prosecutor and renowned New York mayor to among the most polarizing of Trump's legal advisers.
According to prosecutors in Fulton County, Giuliani aided Trump in perpetrating a sweeping effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in the state, including by making false statements to state election officials and contributing to the harassment of two election workers, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss.
Responding to the indictment, Giuliani said it was "an affront to American Democracy and does permanent, irrevocable harm to our justice system."
"It's just the next chapter in a book of lies with the purpose of framing President Donald Trump and anyone willing to take on the ruling regime," Giuliani said in the statement.
For years, Giuliani promoted himself as the godfather of the RICO statute. In 1983, when he took over the U.S. attorney's office in New York's Southern District, Giuliani set out to crack down on the city's infamous organized crime families, whose violent tactics and illegal enterprises plagued the streets of New York.
To do so, he and his team of assistant U.S. attorneys -- which included a young Michael Chertoff, who would go on to become Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security -- needed to find a way to pursue the bosses pulling the strings, not just the foot soldiers perpetrating the actual criminal conduct.
"It was really [Giuliani's] brainstorm," John Savarese, a prosecutor who worked under Giuliani in the 1980s, said in the Netflix docuseries, "Fear City." "He wanted to use RICO in a way that it had never been used before."
During his failed first New York City mayoral bid in 1989, Giuliani sought to capitalize on his reputation as a fearless prosecutor to score political points, touting his use of RICO to hold powerful mob bosses to account.
''Using [RICO] against the [organized crime] commission, that was an idea that no one had until I developed it and went down to Washington and started talking about it," Giuliani told the New York Times in 1989. "And I came to the [U.S. attorney's] office with it.''
Giuliani was elected mayor of New York City in 1994.
Now, in the Fulton County case, Giuliani has been charged by a prosecutor who herself has used her state's RICO Act to great success in her prosecution of defendants ranging from school teachers to street gangs. Since taking over as Fulton County district attorney, Willis has praised the versatility of the statute to "tell the whole story of a crime."
The Fulton County DA has charged Giuliani, along with Trump and 17 others, with violation of the Georgia RICO Act as part of what the indictment calls "a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election in favor of Trump."
Twenty-four years ago, when Giuliani's critics cast doubt on his claim to being the first to use the RICO statute as he had, Giuliani bristled. In its 1989 story on Giuliani, the New York Times pointed out that RICO had been in use for years as a strategic tool, citing FBI officials who said they had already undertaken investigative efforts aimed at bringing RICO charges before Giuliani became U.S. attorney.
Giuliani, according to the paper, pushed back on those assertions.
"Absolutely, totally not true," Giuliani said at the time. "Those people are now trying to recreate a good idea.