When I hear the word “Rico,” I think of two things: First, the 1931 crime film Little Caesar starring Edward G. Robinson as Caesar “Rico” Bandello, a small-time hoodlum who ascends to the highest ranks of organized crime only in the end to die in a gutter. His famous last line is “Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?”
Second, I think of the 1970 federal RICO Act that was passed as a result of the Valachi hearings in Congress in the 1960s. The mobster Joseph Valachi broke the code of silence, called omertà, to talk about the crimes of Cosa Nostra. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as RICO, provides, among other things, that mafia bosses can be tried for crimes that they ordered others to do or assisted them in doing. It closed a loophole that allowed a person who instructed someone else to commit murder, for example, to be exempt from trial because he did not personally commit the crime.
Fighting the mafia has always been a difficult challenge. Mafia families have been involved in many, many crimes over long periods of time all for the benefit of their leaders. But these godfathers were difficult to smoke out because they rarely committed the crimes themselves. They spoke in code and their “wise guys” knew how to implement their wishes.
What we have learned recently from the testimony of Michael “the fixer” Cohen is that President Trump is, in essence, a mafia don. The Trump Organization sounds a lot like a racketeering enterprise with all of the decisions made at the very top. Alleged corruptions include bank fraud, tax fraud, obstruction of justice, perjury, and the list goes on. And, as Mr. Cohen said, “Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That’s not how he operates. He doesn’t give orders. He speaks in code. And I understand that code.” Further, Mr. Cohen claimed, “Everybody’s job at the Trump Organization is to protect Mr. Trump. Every day most of us knew we were coming to work and we were going to lie for him about something. That became the norm.”
Ironically, Trump calls Cohen a “rat.” In crime lingo, this means that someone snitched—turned state’s evidence—became a penitent. It does not mean he lied. In fact, it means the opposite.
Also ironically, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are investigating Trump and the Trump Organization. It is precisely this body that hit its stride in the 1980s against the bosses of the city’s five families—Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, and Lucchese. And now Trumpo. And finally one more irony: the head of the Southern District of New York in the ‘80s was none other than lawyer Rudy Giuliani. He most certainly must have lost his moral compass as he now serves as the president’s mouthpiece, at least on TV, and I suspect that he too lies, lies, lies for Trump.
May we someday hear the words, “Mother of mercy, is this the end of the Donald?”