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When Greenpeace submitted a complaint alongside other environmental groups pushing for the investigation of BigOil and their friends, it looked as if the interest group had finally found a vulnerable point in the giant's armor. Greenpeace then used RICO to pry open an even larger vulnerability.
But RICO can giveth, and it can taketh away, as Greenpeace is now aware. The Canadian paper-pulping company Resolute Forest Products recently filed its own RICO suit in Georgia federal court, alleging that Greenpeace and its affiliates have waged a defamatory "enterprise" against the company.
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) was the federal law borne out of the 1970s and used famously and with great effect in the prosecution of the Gambino and Lucchese crime family trials.
It's a bit of a turnaround for the federal law that it should be used within the context of environmentalism, but it has been recently been used by both proponents of "green" objectives and industry advocates in a controversy between Greenpeace and the Canadian paper pulping company, Resolute Forest Products.
The complainant alleges that Greenpeace targeted Resolute with a "disinformation campaign" with the aim to "fraudulently induce" millions in donations. Resolute also claimed that the organization's MO involved sensationalism, false claims, manufactured evidence, extortion, and other on-field grassroots encouragement of the public typically associates with environmental movements.
The main thrust of the complaint is misinformation in fundraising. The uglier allegations involve doctoring photographs and videos in order to cause an inflammatory reaction in viewers' minds.
Is RICO Worth It?
And this point is key. In order to use RICO, allegations of fraudulent behavior must be present in the pleadings. Fraud is a weighty (and costly) issue that can get very expensive because it's very discovery-thirsty. And in fact, Jonathan Adler for Volokh Conspiracy points out that Greenpeace might have grabbed the wrong snake this time. Resolute has also filed a defamation claim in Canada separate from its RICO claim. Sometimes, a seemingly effective sword can cut he who wields it.