FORT MYERS, Fla., - Legal experts are weighing in after the Fort Myers Police Department arrested more than 2 dozen members of the Lake Boyz gang last month by applying a state law designed to crack down on organized crime. While some praise FMPD for using the RICO Act to get the gang off the streets, others are critical saying the blanket charges may be going too far.
RICO, which stands for Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act, is a federal provision used to extend criminal charges to parties acting as part of a criminal organization.
"The scary part for the individuals in jail is that they're being charged for a crime they've never even heard of before. their bond is a million dollars," said Scot Goldberg, a Fort Myers attorney.
Plus, a conviction could mean 20 years in prison for those individuals now facing racketeering charges under the provision.
"It's for a broad act that's got a lot of players and individually you couldn't get every one of them on their own but by throwing out the net you can get a whole lot of them," said Joe D'alessandro, a former prosecutor with the State Attorney's Office.
Goldberg says the federal provision, meant to go after organized crime organization, is now being used by state governments to control gang problems.
"When you see it in a state court and you see it with this magnitude with the amount of people that were arrested, it's a big deal," Goldberg said.
Goldberg is representing the Lee County NAACP as some of the arrestee's families turn to the group.
"I don't think anybody has seen enough information to make a determination of whether it's being abused or not abused in this situation," Goldberg said.
Critics to the RICO Act also say the sweep may be too extreme.
"No african american in their reasonable mind believes all 27 of those men are guilty of racketeering. Some maybe," said James Muwakill, Lee County NAACP President.
Ultimately, the burden of proof falls on the state, attorneys say.
"I think for the community it's a good move," said D'alessandro. "Law enforcement is trying to be proactive not reactive," he added.