BFTN #17 2018-09-10
September 10, 2018
BFTN #18 2018-09-17
September 17, 2018
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Part TWENTY-TWO of our series on the WAR ON DRUGS – “RICO”.


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Show Notes:

  • I want to talk about RICO – The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act
  • RICO was passed into law by Nixon in 1970
  • But it was the brainchild of law professor, Bob Blakey
  • He’d been a federal prosecutor under Bobby Kennedy when he was chasing the Mafia
  • and then he’s worked for various Republican members of Congress.
  • In 1970, he was teaching at Notre Dame Law School.
  • He was known to be obsessed with the Mafia and was invited to help write a law targeted organised crime.
  • Up until that time, when the Feds went after the Mob, they might put a capo or even a boss in jail for a while.
  • The problem, as Blakey saw it, was that sending a crime boss to prison didn’t hurt the organization.
  • Prison was seen as a cost of doing business; you did your time and got on with it.
  • To hurt a criminal organization, you had to take away its money
  • But The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution specifically bars the government from taking away a citizen’s property – even a criminal’s “without due process” and “without just compensation”.
  • But one form of confiscation had been a comfortable fixture of American law since the earliest days of the republic.
  • The first Continental Congress passed a law letting the navy seize slave ships even if the owner wasn’t aboard or wasn’t known.
  • The principle was this: a slave ship is of itself offensive to the law and must be shut down.
  • Ever since slave days, police have been allowed to seize obvious contraband – a robber’s gun, say, or during Prohibition a barrel of whiskey.
  • The technical term for government confiscation of illegal objects is “forfeiture.”
  • And because such seizures aren’t necessarily connected to a criminal prosecution, they are called “civil”.
  • In a case of “civil forfeiture, ” prosecutors don’t need to convict anyone to take away the property; they don’t even have to know whose property it is.
  • If the law calls it illegal, the government can take it.
  • As much as anything, civil forfeiture was – until recently – a matter of public safety.
  • Dangerous stuff was removed from circulation.
  • But civil forfeiture was of limited use against organized crime.
  • Only illegal assets like bootleg liquor or illegal slot machines could be taken.
  • The cash derived from them could not.
  • And if the syndicate chose to invest its dirty liquor money in, say, a pizzeria, the place was untouchable.
  • It pissed Blakey off that the pizzeria could then go on to make the crime bosses rich, a pizzeria they wouldn’t have owned to begin with if not for their crimes.
  • So Blakey invented a whole new category of forfeiture: criminal forfeiture.
  • His idea was – once prosecutors convicted a crime boss, they could take away his illegal profits.
  • If those profits were invested in a legitimate business, the government could take that business away, too.
  • In criminal forfeiture, losing the assets was part of the punishment.
  • Here was a law with teeth.
  • Some civil libertarians objected,
  • Blakey had this response: unlike civil forfeiture, criminal forfeiture requires the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person losing the assets is guilty of a crime.
  • Central to Blakey’s new forfeiture idea was a vastly broadened definition of what constituted “organized crime.”
  • It wasn’t just whiskey and casinos; it also included brokerages and banks, anywhere the modern syndicates could extend their moneyed tentacles.
  • While he was writing his law, the gangster image that most often came to Blakey’s mind was that of Edward G. Robinson as the vicious gangster Rico Bandello in the 1930 movie Little Caesar.
  • In that movie, Rico is killed by police, but his respectable patron, “Big Boy, ” is left untouched.
  • Blakey wanted his law to get Big Boy, and when it came time to send his blended bills to the Senate floor he came up with the name: Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act: RICO
  • To this day, Blakey keeps a lifesize painting of Edward G. Robinson as Rico Bandello hanging above his desk
  • But by 1979, RICO was hardly being used.
  • It was too complicated to be quickly used by prosecutors.
  • So in the summer of 1979, Blakey ran seminars at Cornell University for detectives, FBI agents and prosecutors.
  • He was teaching them the basics of RICO and all of the tools it gave them.
  • And they listened well.
  • Because in the next few years they used RICO to arrest mobsters like Paul Castellano, who ran the Gambino family before John Gotti.
  • But the detectives who attended Blakey’s course also passed on what they’d learned to the drug squads.
  • So in 1979, RICO became a weapon in the War On Drugs.
  • Meanwhile, during the Carter Administration, where were 11 states that legalised pot.
  • And one group that wasn’t happy about that trend was the DEA.
  • If marijuana became legal all over the country, the only thing the DEA would have to do would be to fight the small number of cocaine and heroin users.
  • Which would make it hard to justify their huge budget.
  • So the DEA administrator, Peter Bensinger, had a press conference and just straight up made shit up.
  • He said “The American Cancer Society confirms that marijuana represents a more serious cancer threat than cigarettes.”
  • Which took the Cancer Society by surprise; it had said no such thing and in fact believed just the opposite.
  • “We have no national policy on marijuana and cancer, ” a spokeswoman said in response to Bensinger. “We’re interested in it, though, for treatment of pain for cancer victims. “
  • He spoke at the Annual meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, where he said marijuana was a dangerous drug that required heavier penalties and a bigger investment in law enforcement.
  • He got TIME magazine to do a cover story about how Colombians were smuggled pot and cocaine into America.
  • TIME tacked on a 12 inch sidebar talking quoting the most extreme studies on the dangers of pot smoking.
  • Only a year earlier they had taken the opposite position.
  • They weren’t the only ones doing a 180.
  • The Carter administration also started to talk about getting tough on marijuana.
  • They stopped talking about decriminalisation.
  • Why?
  • Well for one thing, elections were coming up.
  • Fifty-four American hostages were rotting in Tehran, and every night Walter Cronkite was closing his evening broadcast with the running count of the days they’d been held.
  • Inflation was well into the double digits, gas was at record high prices, unemployment was high, and the Republicans were getting ready to send Ronald Reagan into battle against him.
  • So Carter needed to protect his right flank and he decided to look tough.
  • But also…
  • Carter’s drug czar’s, Peter Bourne, had been caught writing a prescription for one of his aides for quaaludes.
  • And then he was outed as having snorted cocaine at a party for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
  • So he had to resign and the administration needed to tighten up their drug cred.
  • Meanwhile…
  • Children’s author Peggy Mann decided she was sick and tired of know-it-alls like scientists and medical professionals telling everyone that marijuana was safe.
  • She was the author of such children’s classics as “My Dad Lives in a Downtown Hotel” and “There Are Two Kinds of Terrible”
  • She wrote a new book called “The Sad Story of Mary Wanna: or How Marijuana Harms You”
  • And ”Arrive Alive: How to Keep Drunk and Drugged Drivers Off the Road” and ”Twelve Is Too Old,” a novel about tobacco and marijuana.
  • She started writing articles for magazines like Reader’s Digest, Saturday Evening Post and Ladies’ Home Journal, which reached millions of housewives.
  • And she was perpetuating the myths about pot.
  • In two years, Mann published half a dozen articles on the danger pot smokers pose on the highway, parents who give two-year-olds marijuana to smoke, and the “proven” links between marijuana and heart attack, cancer, infertility, sterility, impotence, loose sex, and big breasts on teenage boys.
  • She said the main problem was teenage culture.
  • Here’s a quote from one of her articles: “A recent survey in Atlanta, Georgia, showed that while one third of non-drug-using kids listen to rock music on the radio three hours or more a day, virtually all drug-using youngsters listen to three or more hours a day … to such lyrics as Eric Clapton singing, ‘Cocaine, cocaine, its all right, it’s all right”
  • In one year, the Reader’s Digest sold three million reprints of Mann’s first article.
  • Also in 1979, the Governor of Texas, Buford T Justice –
  • No wait, it was William Clements.
  • Texas’ first Republican governor in 105 years.
  • He decided to launch a Texan War On Drugs.
  • And he decided to appoint Texas’s richest businessman to lead it: Ross Perot.

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