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Editorial: Wrongful charge proves the need for RICO safeguards

Adan Perez-Macias’ story is, to borrow a line from the hit CW show “Jane the Virgin,” something “straight out of a telenovela.”

As Journal reporter Elise Kaplan reported Aug. 18, Perez-Macias was 20 years old, and living and working in southwest Florida when he learned he was a wanted man back in Albuquerque where his parents still live.

Perez-Macias was one of more than a dozen allegedly gang-affiliated young people indicted by a grand jury two years ago at the request of Bernalillo County prosecutors making use of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations act, also known as RICO.

The only problem? Perez-Macias wasn’t a gang member. Never had been. A suspect had told detectives an “Adan Perez” had helped him burglarize a Tijeras house, and (incorrectly) identified Perez-Macias through social media pictures. Never mind that the two had never met, and that on the day in question, Perez-Macias was actually working a shift at a Naples restaurant nearly 2,000 miles away.

Crazy, right? It gets more so.

What’s crazier is how much Perez-Macias had to go through before prosecutors ultimately dropped charges against him: seven months, including one 12-hour shift in lockup; his savings, which it cost him to book a flight home; his life in Florida; his parents’ peace of mind; and fear. So much fear. Perez-Macias thought he might lose his freedom, custody of his own son, his future.

Even today, the now-22-year Perez-Macias is in the system – his record shows that he was once charged with a felony.

How massively unfair.

While Kaplan’s story pointed out how infrequently RICO charges are used – no attorneys interviewed for the story could remember any cases in recent history – Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez has said he plans to use the act again in the near future. He also acknowledges that “we made mistakes” that led to Perez-Macias’ indictment. Torrez also said the involvement of his office’s newly minted Crime Strategies Unit will help reduce the likelihood of people being misidentified in future RICO investigations.

We hope that’s the case. There’s no question that RICO can be a valuable tool for dismantling criminal enterprise organizations and for going after shot-callers who aren’t necessarily getting their hands dirty – as Kaplan reported, it was originally designed as a way to go after mob bosses. The act allows district attorneys to prosecute activity that’s part of a greater criminal organization, like money laundering or counterfeiting, or, of course, violent crimes; it’s been used to charge members of organizations like the Mafia, Hells Angels and the Chicago Mob. With the level of street gang-related crime in Albuquerque, Torrez is right to use every tool at his disposal to try to dismantle dangerous organizations and lock up the responsible players.

But that doesn’t change the fact that what happened to Perez-Macias simply shouldn’t happen again.

We’re counting on Torrez, and his partners in law enforcement, to make sure the changes they’ve made will prevent any such repeat.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.


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