A President, A Rapper, And Fani Willis: How RICO Charges Will Impact Trump, Young Thug, And The Biggest Trials In Atlanta History

Two of the biggest trials in America will take place in Atlanta. Former President Donald Trump and prolific Atlanta rapper Young Thug will both fight charges, in separate cases, under the Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization statute, also known as the RICO. 

On Aug. 14, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis announced the indictment of Trump and 18 other co-defendants in connection to the 2020 election probe. 

“Every individual charged in the indictment is charged with one count of violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act through participation in a criminal enterprise in Fulton County, Georgia, and elsewhere, to accomplish the illegal goal of allowing Donald J. Trump to seize the presidential term of office beginning on January 20, 2021,” Willis said during a press conference at the Fulton County Court on the night of Aug. 14. 

Both cases against Trump and Young Thug will stand as the biggest court trials in Atlanta’s history. 

It will also thrusts Willis into the national spotlight. During an interview that took place earlier this summer, Willis shared with me that she’s willing to go after any person, big or small, who commits crime in Fulton County.

“It’s going to be a historic year,” Willis shared. “It’s certainly we have more history to come. We’re gonna continue to do great things because I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, no one is above the law. And so we are making sure through our efforts that we are making sure that our community has its dignity, but we also want to prosecute those that choose to come to this county and commit crimes.”

But Willis isn’t new to using the RICO to cast a wide net over alleged crimes. Ten years ago, Willis used the RICO to indict 35 teachers in the Atlanta Public School system who were accused of falsifying standardized test scores. It came at a time when test scores were often directly linked to funding as schools with consistently low test scores could be taken over by the state or closed. 

When Willis became the county’s lead district attorney in 2020, she began to build a team that was well-versed in the RICO law. She hired John E. Floyd who wrote a popular legal book on RICO statue. It didn’t take long for Willis to strike. 

In May of 2022, Willis shocked the entertainment world by arresting Young Thug, Gunna (who would be released in December 2022) and other members of YSL (Young Slime Life). They were all charged under the RICO for multiple crimes.

The YSL case has impacted hip-hop with the potential use of rap lyrics during the trial.

Young Thug’s lawyers are hoping that rap lyrics are not used as evidence and have stated that rap lyrics are protected under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the U.S. Constitution, and the Georgia Constitution in terms of music, freedom of expression and freedom of speech.

Young Thug’s lawyers also added that there are racial implications to using rap lyrics as evidence in a criminal trial claiming that it is “racist and discriminatory because the jury will be so poisoned and prejudiced” by the artistic material. In turn, the lawyers said the use of rap lyrics would be “unlawful character assassination.”

From 2009-2019, over 500 cases across the country implemented the use of rap lyrics during trial, according to researchers at the University of Richmond. 

But Willis defended her office’s choice to use rap lyrics in court if it can be directly tied to a specific crime. 

“I think if you decide to admit your crimes over a beat, I’m going to use it,” Willis said in a press conference in August 2022. “I’m going to continue to do that; people can continue to be angry about it. I have some legal advice: Don’t confess to crimes on rap lyrics if you do not want them used — or at least get out of my county.”

Interestingly, Trump could also follow Young Thug’s defense by claiming he was protected under the First Amendment when he called former Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp to help overturn the election in 2020.

Trump asked Raffensperger during a phone call to help him secure over 11,000 votes, the amount in which he trailed Joe Biden in Georgia. During a recorded call that took place on Jan. 2, 2021, Trump told Raffensperger, “All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.”

Trump will not be protected by the First Amendment if Willis can prove that he used those particular words to commit a crime. 

With the 2024 election approaching, it’s likely that Trump’s run for office will be impacted. He currently leads the Republican field by a wide margin and appears to be headed to a rematch against President Joe Biden. 

However, if convicted in Georgia, Trump would not be able to pardon himself, and he couldn’t be pardoned by Gov. Brian Kemp. It’s possible that Trump could be the first president to serve his term while in prison. 

Trump and Young Thug come from and exists in two different worlds. One grew up privileged in New York, using discriminatory practices in real estate to ascend in business, entertainment, and eventually to the White House. The other grew up impoverished on the south side of Atlanta, finding a way out of no way until making it big as a mega rap star. Both of their alleged indiscretions could lead them to the same place if convicted, falling from grace after reaching the peak of their professional careers. Taken down in Atlanta by an ambitious D.A. and the RICO statue. 





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