As part of their continuing investigation into Dickie Scruggs and others, Justice Department officials now are looking at racketeering as a possible next charge to pursue against the legendary trial lawyer.
Some critics have questioned whether the statute has been used too broadly in the past. “It’s not exactly what Congress had in mind,” said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. “That reflects creative lawyering.”
Although prosecutors rarely use racketeering charges, it offers them a very big stick. Anyone convicted of racketeering can face up to 20 years, plus stiff financial penalties, including the possible forfeiture of money and assets gained through an illegal scheme.
“I think it’s always appealing, but my sense is it is generally held out more as a hammer than it’s actually used,” said former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones of Birmingham, who once represented Siegelman.
“It puts the fear of God into potential targets.”
Jones said the downside for prosecutors using the racketeering charge is “it’s a very complicated law. There have been a lot of different interpretations on how you prove it.”