The state's top prosecutors and more than a dozen legislators today filed a sweeping anti-crime bill that would make money-laundering a state crime, update the state's antiquated wiretapping statute, and create a racketeering law to target organized criminal groups.
Attorney General Martha Coakley said during a press conference at her office that state law has not kept up with technology, and that it is crucial to give police and prosecutors across Massachusetts better tools to combat sophisticated criminal enterprises and economic crimes, especially now that the state could see casinos or gambling at racetracks.
"Particularly as we explore the possibility of expanded gaming in the commonwealth, it is critical that we have the statutory structure in place to address the types of financial crimes and corruption that may be associated with legalized gaming,'' Coakley said in statement.
The proposed legislation, in many ways, mirrors federal laws, which are currently used to prosecute crimes such as racketeering, money-laundering, public corruption, and human trafficking.
But, Coakley said, "The federal government cannot be everywhere, does not have the resources, and I think it's important the state carry its share of investigating these types of crimes and making sure we deter them at the earliest moment."
Coakley said that 32 states have criminal enterprise statutes that are similar to the federal racketeering law and at least 28 states have money-laundering statutes, including many that have legalized gaming. Massachusetts lawmakers are expected to take up expanded gambling again this fall.
But Boston criminal defense attorney Robert A. George said the state should not create new laws to target crimes that are already being handled by "well-funded federal authorities." State prosecutors, he said, "don't have the money to prosecute the cases that they already have on their plate.''
Over the past two decades, the Legislature has repeatedly rejected bills that would have created a state statute modeled on the federal racketeering law.
The latest proposal would allow the state to prosecute members of criminal enterprises who engage in a pattern of racketeering activity, and could be used to target organized crime, street gangs, identity theft rings, drug cartels, and human trafficking groups.
The proposed revisions would also, for the first time, allow police to seek court orders seeking telephone wiretaps in public corruption investigations. The money-laundering law would allow the state to prosecute people or criminal groups that knowingly launder money that is derived from criminal activity.
Both Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo's office released statements saying they would work with Coakley on the legislation.
"The areas outlined in the attorney general's bill are places where we need to make sure our laws keep up with the times,'' Murray's statement said.
During today's press conference, Berkshire District attorney David F. Capeless, who is president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, said that the proposed changes would allow state prosecutors to crack down on 21st-century crimes.
"For today's criminals, two of the weapons of choice are the cell phone and the computer," he said.
The state's wiretapping law, enacted in 1925, was last updated in 1968, long before cell phones even existed, said Coakley, adding wryly, "It's probably time."
House Majority Leader James Vallee, a Democrat from Franklin, said in a statement supporting the crime bill, "Financial crimes, such as money laundering, seem to steadily increase during times of economic hardship or uncertainty. The dire economic backdrop against which this bill is presented makes its passage crucial."
On the beat
Columnist Shirley Leung says Boston mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh should focus on middle-class housing. Read more