Illinois has become the latest state to adopt its version of the RICO Act. Local prosecutors now have the power to go after street gangs as criminal organizations.
Illinois is among the states with the highest number of gang members. That's according to the latest National Gang Threat Assessment. State officials hope the law signed by the governor will reverse the trend. The statute is similar to the federal RICO act, which originally was used to target the Mafia. More than two dozen states have their own RICO laws. Governor Pat Quinn says Illinois' law will give local authorities a much needed boost in making streets safer.
“We mean business about the street gang members" Quinn said, "but we have to also go after these leaders who sit behind the scenes, plot and plan all these crimes."
Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez echoed Quinn's statement. She says prosecutors now have a tool that allows them to go beyond targeting individual gang members. Alvarez says they need help in taking down gang leaders.
"It's because they're the ones that usually are nowhere to be found. And we may convict the soldier, but we never get the general," Alvarez said.
Gang members convicted of criminal conspiracy under the racketeering law could face more than 30 years in prison. Critics say the statute could give prosecutors too much power. They say low-level gang members could be swept up in investigations and charged with harsher crimes.