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E-M:/ (II) RICO: A different approach to Vreba-Hoff





By failing to collect the $403,000 or so in penalties owed by Vreba-Hoff to the State of Michigan, the  Departments of Environmental Quality and Attorney General are extending credit from the state to the CAFO, in effect, a state investment in a serial polluter. 
 
Such forbearance will be particularly galling to neighbors of the CAFO's facilities in south central Michigan - and astonishing to students of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
 
Initially renowned as a part of the campaign against the Mafia, RICO fraud sections target persons who, operating within or through a seemingly innocuous company or other entity, make a practice of hoodwinking others with false representations for personal gain.  The act provides civil and criminal sanctions.  The penalties, including forfeiture and imprisonment, can be severe.  The U.S. Department of Justice is authorized to bring criminal actions.  Victims who can prove damages to business or property may recover treble damages in civil proceedings.
 
The act has been applied in recent years to a wide range of circumstances, from major league baseball to the Key West Police Department.  (Look up the act in Wikipedia for more details.)
 
The behavior that is punished in the criminal application of the act is the pattern, not the individual crimes, such as fraud, that make up the pattern.  Last year, the Toledo Blade reported that DEQ found it necessary to take enforcement action against Vreba-Hoff and negotiate settlements five times in five years.  During all those negotiations and in the various agreements leading to court orders and judgments, many questionable 
representations had to have been made.  Were there false representations?  Is there a pattern?  How could there not be?  Let's find out for sure.
 
Jeff Grell, an expert on RICO, concludes his 'nutshell' discussion as follows:
 
"Whenever anyone contacts me for advice concerning a RICO claim, they explain the facts and ask: "do I have a RICO claim?" My answer is inevitably: "yes, of course you have a RICO claim, but everyone living and breathing in the United States has a RICO claim." Given the breadth of the mail and wire fraud statutes and given the extent to which technology invades all of our lives, it is not a stretch to say that we all have RICO claims at any given moment. With RICO, the question is not whether you have a claim, but whether you have a good claim."
http://www.ricoact.com/ricoact/nutshell.asp
 
The tragedy inflicted on Vreba-Hoff's neighbors, the land, water and air and the public at large needs to be corrected.  The state agencies responsible for this correction seem to be out of their depth.  It's time for the U.S. Department of Justice to take over. 

--  Jim Lang
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