The families of several men charged with Racketeering in connection to a gang investigation attended a meeting Thursday intended to explain how the RICO Act was used to arrest 21 men.
The Lee County NAACP hosted the event and enlisted the help of a Fort Myers attorney to discuss the purview of the RICO Act, or the Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act.
The law, which was originally crafted to fight the Mafia, can be used against any organization which uses crime as means to make money. It allows prosecutors to go after an entire organization instead of an individual.
More than two dozen people attended the meeting, all worried they would never see their loved one's again. A woman whose son was arrested believes law enforcement unjustly used the RICO Act.
"I personally feel hopeful that every single one of them will be proven innocent of racketeering because clearly there's no organized gang. There's no enterprise, there's no gang whatsoever,' said Lynn Banfield. She claims the "Lake Boyz" is not an official gang and says many of the men arrested in the operation were brought in on old convictions; which the RICO Act allows prosecutors to use as evidence of gang activity.
"They have some of these juveniles who are 19, 20 years old and they're using trespassing charges they got as a juvenile as a predicate act," said Banfield.
Another mother at the event claimed her son was on house arrest during most of the "Operation Great Lakes" investigation.
"They said they're going back 14 months. He was in jail, so therefore the trumped up charges that they got, no, no there's no way," said Clay Trina Griffin.
The RICO Act is one of the strongest tools to fight organized crime. Attorney Scot Goldberg, who is working with NAACP to help the parents better understand the law, says it may have been used to lead to bigger fish in this case.
"I think they throw a very wide net and hopefully they can drag in some people that can help them meet those burdens, but I would say probably 50% to 70% of these cases will be reduced and plead out," said Goldberg.