People For the American Way Foundation

Biden Judge Reverses Lower Court and Allows Civil RICO Case Against Prosecutor to Go Forward

Biden Judge Reverses Lower Court and Allows Civil RICO Case Against Prosecutor to Go Forward

Judge Arianna Friedman. nominated by President Biden to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote a unanimous decision partly reversing a lower court and allowing a civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) case to proceed against a local prosecutor. The April 2024 decision was in Russo v Lamancusa.

What is the background of this case?

Joshua Lamancusa, the district attorney for Lawrence County Pennsylvania, created and directs a Special Investigative Unit (SIU) from several area police departments. Local businesspeople, including Anna Russo and Torry Argiro, contend that Lamancusa has “used the SIU as a criminal enterprise to extort countless individuals under the guise of a legitimate law enforcement body.

For example, Russo owned a car dealership that she managed with her son Robert Luptak. Lamacusa or SIU allegedly arranged for an informant to “plant illegal drugs” in a car owned by them and later seized the car without an adequate warrant and never returned it. They then searched Luptak’s home, arrested him on drug charges, and pressured him to consent to a search of the dealership, “where they seized vehicles, valuables and cash.” Lamancusa allegedly told Luptak that he would make the charges against him “disappear” if he permitted the police to “keep everything” they confiscated, and suggested that Luptak “jump onboard” and become part of the “family.” Luptak declined and he was convicted.

Russo and Argiroincluded these and other c harges in a RICO complaint they filed in state court, which was removed to federal court. In 2023, a federal trial judge dismissed the RICO case against Lamacusa, claiming that the plaintiffs “failed to allege sufficiently related acts” to establish a pattern of RICO activity. Russo snd Argiro appealed to the Third Circuit.


How did Judge Freeman and theThird Circuit Rule and Why is it Important?

Judge Freeman wrote a unanimous opinion that reversed the dismissal of the RICO claim against Lamancusa and allowed the case against him to proceed. Based on a careful analysis of the complaint and relevant case law, Freeman wrote that the predicate acts alleged in the complaint “satisfy at least three” of the factors discussed by the Supreme Court in such cases, since they have “the same or  similar” participants,  the same or similar “methods of commitment,” and several resulted in the improper acquisition of property from Russo  or others.

As both Judge Freeman and the district court noted, the alleged predicate acts in the case, “if proven to be true,” are “plainly disturbing violations of public trust.”  Based on the alleged facts and relevant case law, Judge Freeman and her colleagues concluded, Russo and Argiro had clearly alleged “enough relatedness” to survive the motion to dismiss and go forward with their case.

Judge Freeman’s decision is obviously important to Anna Russo and Tony Argiro in their effort to obtain justice for the clearly improper and damaging actions that they contend Lamancusa had committed. The ruling also reinforces significant  precedent on RICO, particularly in the Third Circuit, which includes Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. The decision also serves as an important reminder of the significance of promptly confirming fair-minded nominees like Judge Freeman to our federal courts