Friday, August 3, 2012

Why is Andrea Sneiderman Charged with Racketeering?

Why is Andrea Sneiderman charged with Racketeering?

            On August 2, 2012, the DeKalb County Grand Jury indicted Andrea Sneiderman on 8 counts, the first being a Violation of the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, otherwise known as Georgia RICO, O.C.G.A.§16-14-1, et. seq.  For many, the term RICO immediately makes one think of organized crime, the mafia, the Godfather, Henry Hill, criminal enterprises, etc…  However, most people, and probably a significant portion of lawyers, do not fully understand RICO’s broad applications. 

The purpose of this post is to briefly explain RICO in general, to apply RICO to the Andrea Sneiderman murder case, and then opine on why they DA would want this count in addition to the other 7 counts in the indictment.

RICO – Generally

I want to quickly draw a distinction between the Federal RICO Act and the Georgia RICO Act.  While similar in form and function, the two laws are separate, distinct and present different requirement that the government must satisfy to secure a conviction.  Because Andrea Sneiderman is only charged with violating Georgia RICO, this post refers only to Georgia RICO unless otherwise noted. 

In general, a person violates RICO when, through a pattern of racketeering activity (“predicate acts”), she acquires or maintains an interest in or control of property or business. In simple terms, if someone commits at least two crimes listed in the RICO statute (the pattern of racketeering activity), and she gets money or controls a business from committing those crimes (gain control of property or business) she violates RICO.

O.C.G.A. § 16-14-3 lists the crimes that constitute “predicate acts” of a RICO violation.  For example, committing or attempting to commit any of the following crimes constitutes predicate acts under RICO: 

-          Gambling
-          Murder
-          Kidnapping
-          Extortion
-          Arson
-          Robbery
-          Bribery
-          Dealing in a controlled substance
-          Counterfeiting
-          Embezzlement
-          Fraud
-          Acts of terrorism
-          Drug trafficking
-          Prostitution and pandering
-          Influencing witnesses
-          Forgery
-          Bootlegging alcohol
-          Perjury and other falsifications
-          Certain copyright violations
-          Securities violations
-          Insurance fraud
-          Assisted suicide

A RICO conviction subjects the defendant to criminal penalties and separate civil lawsuits from victims of the RICO violations.  The criminal penalties include 5 to 20 years in prison and not more than a $25,000.00 fine.  In addition, the state may seek forfeiture and/or seizure of all ill-gotten gains resulting from the RICO violation before or after conviction.

Application of RICO to Andrea Sneiderman’s Case

There are three prohibited acts specifically spelled out in Georgia’s RICO Act, only one of which is referenced in the Andrea Sneiderman indictment (O.C.G.A. § 16-14-4(a)), and provides as follows:

It is unlawful for any person, through a pattern of racketeering activity or proceeds derived therefrom, to acquire or maintain, directly or indirectly, any interest in or control of any enterprise, real property, or personal property of any nature, including money. 

In applying this specific RICO prohibited act to the Andrea Sneiderman case, the first step is to identify the “pattern of racketeering activity” she is alleged to have committed.  The indictment (included in the first post in my blog) lays out all the alleged predicate acts.  Among them are murder, conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder, insurance fraud, false statements and perjury.  Thus, the state must first prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that Andrea Sneiderman committed at least two of these predicate acts, i.e. that Andrea Sneiderman engaged in a “pattern of racketeering activity.” 

The next step is to consider whether through the commission of this “pattern of racketeering activity” Andrea Sneiderman obtained money or property.  The state alleges that Andrea Sneiderman obtained at least $960,000.00 in individual and joint accounts belonging to Andrea and Rusty Sneiderman, and that Andrea also obtained $2,000,000.00 in insurance proceeds from two policies on Rusty’s life.

            In short, the RICO count is essentially the State alleging that Andrea Sneiderman got money as a result of committing one or more of the crimes of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder, insurance fraud, false statements and/or perjury.   

Opinion on DA’s Strategy for Charging with RICO

So, why would the DA choose to include a RICO count against Andrea Sneiderman?  The following are two main reasons I think the State may have charged Andrea with RICO instead of just charging here with committing the predicate acts of murder, attempted murder, insurance fraud, false statements and perjury. 

First and foremost is the option to seize and/or seek forfeiture of the money Andrea Sneiderman allegedly obtained as a result of committing the predicate acts.  The State, presumably, may want to seize almost $3,000,000.00 to prevent them from being squandered during the pendency of this matter.  The State wants the funds to be available in the event Andrea is convicted, and the Court eventually orders that Andrea be disgorged of the alleged ill-gotten gains. 

Another reason to include the RICO count is quite possibly that the State is hedging its bets.  The state could have charged Andrea with only the underlying predicate acts, i.e. murder, attempted murder, insurance fraud, false statements and perjury.  If that were the case, and the State were unable to obtain a conviction on the more serious murder/attempted murder counts or insurance fraud count, at best, the jury might convict for false statements and/or perjury. 

False statements carry a maximum 5 year sentence/$1000.00 fine (O.C.G.A. § 16-10-20), and perjury carries a maximum sentence of 10 years/$1000.00 fine (O.C.G.A. § 16-10-70).  Thus, the sentences for false statements and/or perjury as stand-alone counts are less than the minimum 5 years and maximum 20 years for RICO.  Thus, if the State can convince a jury that Andrea made false statements and/or lied under oath and as a result of those misrepresentations obtained money or property, a jury may convict her for RICO, thereby giving the State an avenue seek a longer sentence even though it may not get a murder conviction. 

I suspect as I continue to this about this case that I will have additional thoughts as to why the State added the RICO count.  Faithfully, I will try to blog and respond to your tweets @SpeakerDave or emails in an attempt to make sense out of our  sometimes complicated justice system.  

In closing, please remember that Rusty Sneiderman lost his life, and left behind two young children who will never know their father.  

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  1. Thanks for this. I am following this case closely since I knew Andrea and Rusty in college, and it's nice to have a GA attorney commenting in a thoughtful way instead of just having to grab headlines.

    1. Thank you for explaining this so thoroughly, I am following the trial on In Session and wondered why she was being charged with that also.
      I hope they lock her up forever.