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Brownback signs gang-fighting RICO bill

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Tuesday, April 16, 2013, at 4:15 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 2:53 p.m.

— Kansas law enforcement officials and prosecutors will have a new way to take down gang kingpins who profit off of organized crime.

Gov. Sam Brownback on Tuesday signed into law the Kansas Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, setting up stricter penalties for people who invest in or profit from organized criminal activity.

“It lets us move up the food chain, so to speak, in the organizations and get to the folks at the top who are financing and actually running the criminal organizations,” said Sen. Mike Petersen, R-Wichita, who has pressed for similar gang crackdown laws in recent years.

The RICO Act applies to people in gangs or involved with human or drug trafficking who are involved in at least two cases of organized crime. It also gives prosecutors broader authority to issue subpoenas and sets high bail minimums of $50,000 for those charged with organized crime.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Senate Bill 16 gives law enforcement better ways to get major criminal gangs off the streets.

“There are circumstances with organized criminal activity where the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts,” he said.

In prior years, the legislation failed because people feared it could be applied more broadly to groups such as anti-abortion protesters and other activists who get arrested for organized advocacy.

Lawmakers changed the bill so that it could be used only against people involved in a pattern of more serious criminal activity.

The bill drew broad support from the Wichita Police Department, Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office and other law enforcement groups.

Gordon Bassham, president of the Wichita Crime Commission, said law enforcement officials in Wichita have been pushing for this kind of law since 2010. He said he hopes it shows Kansans the serious nature of gangs and also promotes legal business activity.

“Gang problems really present an economic development issue for the entire state. No business wants to relocate to Kansas if there are a lot of gangs and a lot of gang activity,” he said.

Reach Brent Wistrom at 785-296-3006 or bwistrom@wichitaeagle.com.

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