Closing arguments are under way in the Racketeering trial of four men who are allegedly members of the “Lake Boyz” gang that have been charged as part of a major organized crime case in Fort Myers. There are so many co-defendants, that the court decided to separate them into multiple trials, and the first group is facing trial, four men, who all have trafficking charges, and one of them has additional drug sale charges. To prove racketeering, that is “RICO”, similar to the type of case that you might see from a mob or other organized crime prosecution, the State has to prove that there is an ongoing criminal operation, and that each of the defendants committed crimes in furtherance of that ongoing criminal operation.
The challenge for prosecutors, which was apparent from the initial warrants in the present case, is that while the State can prove that these defendants have committed prior crimes, there is a challenge in proving that the crimes were in furtherance of the criminal prosecution. Some of the prior offenses are as insignificant as marijuana possession, and it’s hard to demonstrate that simple possession is in furtherance of a criminal enterprise. A lot of crimes can be in furtherance of a criminal episode: drug sales, stealing for profit, violence to support gang activities: the challenge for the state is to prove to the exclusion of a reasonable doubt that these crimes were committed in furtherance of the criminal activity.
Many times to make that showing, the government will use an informant. Sometimes they are able to embed an undercover agent into the criminal enterprise, which is nice as they are generally able to give more credible testimony (think Donnie Brasco). However, that’s difficult, dangerous and expensive. Other times, the government will rely on a criminal informant, who may be willing to cooperate due to facing their own criminal charges, or because they are being paid for their assistance. Either way, informants can be less reliable witnesses, but they can be important for the state to prove that there is a criminal enterprise, and that crimes were committed in furtherance of the enterprise… in this case, a gang.
The State utilized several informants in their case against the alleged Lake Boyz on trial the last three weeks. However, the testimony of the informants was not as strong as they likely would have hoped. Listening to the closing arguments, it sounds like they denied knowledge of any of the Defendants being in the gang, working for the gang, taking orders from the gang, or doing things for the benefit of the gang. The State flipped one of the co-defendants as one of their informants, and he denied being a gang member. I didn’t get to see all the evidence, and I’m not on the jury, but the State has a big hurdle to clear in this case, in spite of the gang signs and rap videos. They have a problem trying to prove the enterprise, and the furtherance of the enterprise, beyond a reasonable doubt.
Closing arguments will wrap up this evening, and then it will be in the jury’s hands. I’m sure they will try to wrap it up tonight, but the judge has indicated he’s willing to come back over the weekend to finish the trial.