CJC hosts alumni to discuss prosecuting criminal gangs under RICO
By Francie Weinberg
Sasha Lohn-McDermott (JD 09) and Daniel Weisman (JD 07) are facing one of Florida’s most under-acknowledged yet prevalent problems head on.
“When I started this job, I had no idea we had a gang problem in Florida,” said Lohn-McDermott. “The state is facing a mounting crisis. We are in a battle for the safety of our streets.”
As assistant statewide prosecutors, UF Law alumni Lohn-McDermott and Weisman work to abolish growing gang violence.
In a presentation Tuesday at the Martin H. Levin Advocacy Center called “A Battle for our Streets: Using RICO to Prosecute Criminal Gangs in Florida,” presented by the Criminal Justice Center, Lohn-McDermott and Weisman discussed how they have worked relentlessly to use the racketeering law to bring gangs to justice.
“Racketeering is society’s way of telling us what you can do individually is impressive but limited,” said Weisman. “But what you guys do when you treat crime like a team sport goes far beyond what someone can do on their own and it scares the hell out of us.”
In order for RICO, the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, to be effective, the crimes committed must be targeting the same or similar groups and there must be continuity between the crimes, according to Weisman and Lohn-McDermott.
“RICO cases are about ongoing patterns of crime, crimes over years and years and years,” said Weisman. “It’s about bad stuff people do that tends to prove they really are together in an enterprise.”
Lohn-McDermott went on to explain how gang life has changed since the enactment of RICO in 1970. No longer is it the white-suited mafia men looking for money but rather a group of people inflicting violence and terror on a community. Many times, the actual amount of gang violence is downplayed by local government because it’s bad for business.
“We don’t hear about gang violence because it’s not creeping around the law school,” she said. “Instead, it’s terrorizing our communities.”
Lohn-McDermott further explained that as statewide prosecutors, she, Weisman and other associates finally have the tools necessary to at least quell, if not stop altogether, much of the gang violence that goes on in cities around the state.
Weisman, who will try a homicide case in two weeks against a west Florida gang called Sur 13, discussed the many ways in which gangs identify themselves. Common methods are through tattoos, styles of dress and rap songs.
“Don’t feel guilty, when the song gets going, if you find yourself tapping your feet a little bit,” he said. “They’ve got some good production values.” He then played a rap song by one of Sur 13’s rival gangs, Third Shift, who was tried by Weisman in 2009.
Weisman and Lohn-McDermott use these types of identification as evidence when they try racketeering cases. It is through these identifying factors that they have been so successful in convicting gangs.
Weisman, who was hired into the Statewide Prosecution Office immediately out of law school, has tried four gang-related RICO cases in the past 2 ½ years. Lohn-McDermott, hired to be an assistant statewide prosecutor after working as a law clerk, has tried several cases since graduating in 2009. They both graduated from what used to be the criminal law program.
The presentation was sponsored by UF Law’s new Criminal Justice Center, which serves as a platform to bring criminal law faculty together with interested students, enhancing the students’ law school experience by providing them with mentorship, area-specific education, and criminal practice training. The CJC houses the Criminal Justice Certificate Program, which is a way for students who are interested in criminal law and procedure, either as an area of academic study or as one of practice, or both, to demonstrate special competency in the area. More information can be found here:http://www.law.ufl.edu/centers/cjc/.
Weisman and Lohn-McDermott gave information regarding a summer externship program in which students can gain up to six credits. Applications are available in the career services department and must be turned in with a resume and transcript by April 14, 2012.
The presentation ended with Lohn-McDermott and Weisman encouraging students to apply for the externship. They added a few parting words about the benefits of the RICO Act and working as a statewide prosecutor.
“A lot of (community officials) completely disavow that gangs exist, while their citizens and their police officers will tell you something completely different,” said Weisman. “Statewide prosecutors have the courage to tackle this problem head on.”