A new tool for prosecuting cybercrime appears to have emerged from a Las Vegas courtroom. Using a law classically invoked for targeting mafia and gang members, a federal court convicted a member of a web forum being used to facilitate identity theft. According to Wired, this is the first time that this law — the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) — has been used to prosecute cybercrime, and it could find a broader use as online black markets like Silk Road continue to gain the attention of law enforcement.

With RICO, law enforcement can prosecute members of an organized crime organization, even if they aren't found to have directly committed a crime. In this case, prosecutors argued that members of the web forum "Carder.su" were part of a type of organized crime group, as they were required to go through a vetting process and to meet a number of security standards that would protect the forum from law enforcement.

Camez faces up to 40 years in prison

It appears that this involvement and the purchase of criminal goods was enough to consider David Ray Camez, the convicted member, a participant in the over 5,500-member forum. "It is difficult to fathom the enormity and complexity of the Carder.su racketeering organization and its far-reaching tentacles across international borders," US attorney Daniel Bogden says in a statement.

A federal jury found Camez guilty on two counts of involvement with a racketeer-influenced corrupt organization. He'll now face up to 40 years in jail and a fine of up to $250,000. Camez was previously convicted on related forgery charges after authorities found that he purchased counterfeit driver's licenses, credit cards, gift cards, and US currency. Wired reports that Camez was not also convicted as a seller of counterfeit goods.

The successful prosecution of Camez suggests that law enforcement may be able to target discrete members of other criminal websites in this manner as well. ICE doesn't say exactly what it takes for users of a website facilitating criminal activity to be considered part of the related criminal organization, but Wired suggests that it could be applied to users of Silk Road or even file sharing services. We may see soon if prosecutors' use of RICO continues: another 16 people linked to Carder.su are scheduled for trial in February.