(Last Updated On: March 11, 2023)
Do You Need a Federal RICO Defense Attorney?
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act was passed in 1970. It gave law enforcement the leverage to take on organized crime and contain it.
If the prosecution can establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants participated in and profited from criminal activities, they can then apply those charges to the RICO Act.
What Is Racketeering?
Illegal businesses are called rackets. Broadly speaking, racketeering means:
- Acquiring a business through crimes like extortion
- Using illegally-derived money to run a legitimate business
- Using legally-derived money to run a criminal enterprise
- Using a business as a front for a criminal operation
Common rackets include human trafficking, prostitution, drug trafficking, illegal weapons trade and counterfeiting.
Racketeering is prosecuted at both the state and federal levels. If you have profited because of racketeering activities, then the RICO Act may apply to you.
Which Crimes Are RICO Violations?
Here are some examples of racketeering at the federal level:
- Running an illegal gambling operation
- Money laundering
- White collar crime
- Financial and economic crime
- Sexual exploitation of children
- Murder for hire
- Obstruction of justice
Here are some examples of racketeering at the state level:
- Drug crimes
Racketeering is at play when cybercriminals take over your computer and lock you out until you pay a ransom. Fencing rackets involve thieves who steal property and sell it to intermediaries on the cheap. The intermediaries then resell the goods to unsuspecting buyers at a sizeable profit.
Protection rackets involve threatening someone with harm unless they pay for protection. Kidnapping rackets involve stealing individuals and setting them free only after a ransom is paid.
Corporations can be as guilty of racketeering as career criminals. A pharmaceutical company might disburse financial incentives to physicians who push the company’s drugs. This profits both the physician and the pharmaceutical company while defrauding patients and their insurance companies.
How Does The RICO Act Work?
The Department of Justice (DOJ) requires the prosecution to prove certain things beyond a reasonable doubt before the defendants can be found guilty of violating the RICO statute:
- An enterprise existed.
- That enterprise conducted business across state lines.
- The defendant was either employed by or associating with a criminal operation.
- The defendant engaged in racketeering and participated in at least two separate racketeering activities.
Why Was the RICO Act Passed?
RICO was initially enacted to help law enforcement crack down on organized crime and other criminal enterprises. With RICO, prosecutors could sue an entire racket at once instead of trying individual racketeers separately.
Prosecutors can now seize the assets of indicted individuals and prevent them from moving funds and properties through shell companies. The ringleaders may be charged with crimes they compel others to commit.
Defendants can be charged through RICO after two acts of racketeering activity. One act must have occurred after 1970 when the Act was made law. The second act must have occurred within 10 years of the first act.
If convicted, the defendants can receive 20 years or more in prison and crippling fines for each count of racketeering activity. Federal racketeering crimes can be prosecuted at both the state and federal levels. Federal crime sentences are more severe than those imposed by the state.
Has the RICO Act Been Effective?
The RICO Act has helped law enforcement to reduce the incidence of racketeering and organized crime in the U.S. Prosecutors can effectively target criminal enterprises as well as their leaders, even if those leaders had other individuals commit crimes for them.
When Do You Need a RICO Defense Attorney?
If you have been charged with a RICO violation, contact an experienced federal racketeering (RICO) lawyer at once. RICO violations are probably the most serious and dangerous charges you can face. They are also the most challenging charges to defend in court.
Because your assets can be frozen and seized, financial hardship can make matters significantly worse. The prosecutors don’t have to prove that you committed a crime. They only need to show that you engaged in activities related to a crime.
RICO defenses are similar to those employed in federal drug conspiracy charges. Your attorney can prove your factual innocence, show that the prosecution’s evidence against you is not enough to prove that you are guilty, expose an illegal police procedure or show that you were unaware of any criminal activity.
Federal Racketeering RICO Attorney
This is a complex statute which requires many years of experience in order to properly handle. Federal RICO lawyers you speak to must be able to demonstrate that they can handle your federal criminal RICO indictment, or civil RICO claim. Many attorneys think they can handle a RICO claim, but have zero experience – and have no understanding of the statutes.
The RICO law addresses all forms of organized crime, and sometimes can be used to go after legitimate companies that are involved in legitimate business. The fact is, RICO can be used across the board to distress legitimate businesses, and can result in criminal charges, severe financial fines, in addition to tarnishing your reputation, and can also result in lengthy prison times.
The RICO Act encompasses a bunch of different crimes such as bribery, securities fraud, drug crimes, sex offenses, illegal gambling, and more. In order to secure a conviction, prosecutors will try to find evidence that the defendant committed two of the listed crimes, or two counts of a single crime, within a period of time.
This is a powerful tool used by prosecutors. Under Section 1962 of Title 18 U.S.C., it’s a crime to conspire to break any of the Act’s provisions. There is a difference between RICO conspiracy and general federal conspiracy. Under the general federal statute, it’s a crime if you agree with others to commit a crime – but the agreement should have the same objective. The general conspiracy statute is not as effective as the RICO conspiracy statute.
What are the requirements for federal RICO charges?
Under 18 USC 1962, there are four main violations which can be charged. The most common ground under which a RICO charge will be filed is through 1962(c). The section says it’s unlawful for the employee, or associate, of an enterprise to participate in a pattern of racketeering. In short, a RICO violation happens when a person employed or associated with a company/enterprise, where the activities of the company/enterprise participate directly or indirectly in the enterprise. These activities form a pattern of unlawful racketeering activities.
- Subsection 1962(a) – money laundering
- Subsection 1962(b) – loan sharking
- Subsection 1962(d) – conspiracy
If you’re convicted of a criminal offense under RICO, the maximum punishment for a single violation is a 20 year prison sentence, and a fine of $250,000 or 2x the ill-gotten gains. If certain offenses were involved, then the prison sentence can be changed to life in prison. RICO also permits the forfeiture of property gained due to the crime, or any interest in the enterprise.
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Primarily enacted as a criminal statute, the Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organizations Act (RICO) includes a civil provision within Title IX of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970. This section authorizes private treble-damage actions, which permits courts to award three time the amount of damages that a plaintiff requests.
For years since the passing of this law, the civil provision has rarely been used. However, claims are being filed to use this provision in contexts that are far removed from the original vision of addressing racketeering and organized crime.
What is RICO Law?
RICO law is the prosecution and defense of individuals who participate in organized crime activities. The law was passed by Congress in 1970 as a way to combat Mafia groups. Since that time, the legal system has expanded the law. Now, it is also used to go after other organizations from motorcycle gangs to corrupt police departments.
One thing that distinguishes RICO from other criminal or civil laws is the way it is applied. Rather than pursue an isolated criminal act, prosecutors look for a pattern of wrongdoing among individuals who are members of a criminal enterprise.
The collection of RICO laws include severe consequences when the economic activities of criminal organizations involve illegal activity, known as racketeering. Being convicted for a RICO violation includes heavy fines, financial restitution for victims and up to 20 years in prison. Conviction also calls for the dissolution of the organization.
The following crimes qualify as racketeering and are listed in federal and state statutes:
• Drug trafficking
Anyone who is injured by a RICO violation, whether it is their business or property, may file a civil suit. They have the right to seek a compulsory award that is three times the damages, costs and attorney’s fees for the lawsuit.
Proving a Civil RICO Claim
To have a successful civil RICO claim, the plaintiff must be able to prove two thing:
1. The plaintiff suffered an injury to his or her business or property
2. The injury was closely caused because the defendant violated the RICO statute
Being a defendant in a civil RICO claim does not mean that you were also criminally convicted. However, the plaintiff must prove there was concrete financial loss.
Elements of a RICO Claim
Liability for a violation of RICO requires the individual to be involved in an organization that has a pattern of racketeering activity. To prove this, there are specific elements that apply: enterprise, predicate acts, a pattern of racketeering activity and continuity.
Determining the enterprise is the first step for a RICO case. The enterprise involved in a RICO claim can either be legitimate or illegitimate. Additionally, it may also be a loosely associated group or a corporate entity.
Other technicalities such as defendant/enterprise distinction and the essential connection to predicate acts must be part of the plaintiff’s strategy. A defense attorney will attempt to deconstruct an alleged enterprise that does not meet the terms of the technicalities.
Predicate acts is another element required in all RICO claims. These acts of racketeering activities are independently illegal crimes. Some of the offenses include in this group are:
• Mail and wire fraud
• Money laundering
• Illegal gambling
The plaintiff must define predicate acts while also making sure the actions occurred within the statute of limitation period. An attorney for the defendant must question whether certain predicates were sufficiently pled according to Rule 9(b) of the federal law’s Rules of Civil Procedure. In the past, Rico has been used to even go after companies that do payday loans and cash advances.
Pattern of Racketeering Activity
For a RICO claim to be successful, predicate acts of racketeering must form a pattern where more than two acts occurred. Generally, the alleged enterprise must have committed the predicate acts or proceeds from those acts were invested into the enterprise.
Another element, continuity, means the activity is ongoing or has occurred over a substantial amount of time. There are several way for this to be established, including the fact that racketeering is the enterprise’s way of conducting business.
Why Spodek Law Group, PC is Right for Your Case
Not every lawyer can handle the intricacies of RICO law to build a successful defense for their client. At Spodek Law Group, PC, we know RICO law and we know what it takes to overcome a civil action. Contact our firm today so we can have the opportunity to help you.
Fifth Amendment and RICO Cases
The Fifth Amendment privilege against self incrimination presents a difficult dilemma for a civil RICO defendant. If he takes the Fifth, a presumption arises in the civil case that his testimony, if truthfully given, would be against his interests. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis declared, speaking for a unanimous court in United States ex. rel. Bilokumsky v. Tod, 263 U.S. 149, 153-54 (1923). “Silence is often evidence of the most persuasive character.” This follows the long ago established common law rule that suppression of evidence is an “admission by conduct” that the evidence would be unfavorable to the person responsible for its unavailability. There are a number of reasons that the law allows the finder of fact to draw a negative inference from a defendant’s invocation of the Fifth Amendment in a civil case. Most importantly, allowing the defendant-witness to exclude incriminating information undermines the fact finder’s search for the truth. If the privilege was allowed to be invoked without penalty in a civil case, the privilege places the private RICO plaintiff at a severe disadvantage. This is especially true in RICO cases where civil liability arises from criminal conduct. The incantation of “I refuse to answer pursuant to my Fifth Amendment privilege. . .” precludes discovery and frustrates the truth-determining capacity of the litigation process.
On the other hand, if the defendant has potential liability for plaintiff’s claims and he doesn’t take the Fifth, he may end up giving the criminal prosecutor all the evidence he needs to send him to prison.
This dilemma faces every civil RICO defendant, if he has not already been criminally prosecuted. Every one familiar with the O.J. Simpson case knows that even an acquittal in a criminal case doesn’t mean the defendant is home free. The evidence developed in a criminal RICO case can make the civil RICO case much easier because the burden of proof in the civil case is typically by a preponderance of the evidence. The beyond a reasonable doubt burden simply doesn’t apply. In some states, including Idaho, fraud must be proved by clear and convincing evidence, which although a heavier burden than the preponderance standard, it is much less than beyond a reasonable doubt.
On the other side of the coin, a successful civil RICO prosecution can lead to a criminal prosecution. My last plaintiff’s RICO case, which we settled very advantageously, led to a grand jury indictment for embezzlement and related crimes. The prosecutor was happy to have all of the forensic accounting evidence we developed in the civil case demonstrating that the defendant had embezzled nearly $1 million over a 15-year period.
A Brief Overview of RICO Cases
In October 1970, the 91st United States Congress enacted the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. It was primarily aimed at thwarting prominent crime families such as the Gambino and Bonanno families, but since its inception, RICO has been used in all kinds of cases relating to organized criminal enterprises.
While RICO began as a solely-federal statute, 33 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have since adopted similar laws to combat racketeering. Thus, RICO cases are no longer limited to federal courts.
What does it take to charge people under RICO?
To convict a defendant of racketeering under RICO, prosecutors must prove that a defendant violated at least two predicate offenses covered by the statute within a ten-year period. Most of these predicate offenses are serious felonies by themselves. They include:
- Criminal copyright infringement
- Gambling offenses
- Drug trafficking
- Money laundering
This list is not exhaustive, but it demonstrates well the general idea. Since 1970, there have been some fascinating RICO cases, most of which did not involve traditional Italian crime families.
Famous RICO cases
The Montreal Expos and Major League Baseball
In July 2002, 14 Canadian companies accused Bud Selig, the MLB Commissioner, and Jeffrey Loria, the former owner of the Expos, of plotting to devalue the team for financial gain prior to its move to Washington. Neither man was criminally charged, but the RICO statute does contain a civil provision that allows parties injured by RICO violations to seek punitive damages. The case was eventually settled via arbitration, during which the MLB received a favorable ruling.
United States v. Scott W. Rothstein
In 2010, Scott Rothstein’s $1.2 billion ponzi scheme, the largest in Florida’s history, finally unraveled, and Rothstein was arrested on federal racketeering charges. The prosecution subsequently offered him an agreeable plea bargain in exchange for his cooperation in the investigation. Unfortunately for Rothstein, his greed and arrogance were boundless; the prosecution withdrew its offer after discovering that Rothstein lied to investigators and attempted to hide assets after agreeing to cooperate.
Rothstein has served about eight years of his 50-year sentence and was recently denied a sentence reduction in federal court. If forced to serve his full sentence, he won’t be released until he’s 90 years old.
The “Kids for Cash” Scandal
The notorious “Kids for Cash” Scandal occurred in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania in 2007 when a concerned parent contacted the Juvenile Law Center about sentencing irregularities in the county’s juvenile court. It was eventually discovered that two Luzerne County judges accepted approximately $2.5 million in kickbacks from two private juvenile detention centers in exchange for placing minor offenders in said facilities.
The scope of this scandal was unprecedented, involving more than 6,000 cases and 2,500 children. Judge Conahan received 17 years for his role in the scandal, and Judge Ciavarella, the more egregious of the two, received a sentence of 28 years in prison.
United States v. Kevin Eleby
While neither as sophisticated nor as well dressed as John Gotti, Kevin Eleby fits the textbook definition of a racketeer. In 2013, the former Los Angeles gang leader received a 25-year prison sentence after a federal court found him guilty of:
- Conspiracy to violate the RICO Act
- Drug trafficking (cocaine, heroin and crack cocaine)
- Possession with intent to deliver
- Firearm possession for the purpose of furthering a violent crime
The investigation into Eleby’s gang, the Pueblo Bishop Bloods, resulted in 45 federal indictments and 40 convictions.
Punishments for RICO violations
As illustrated in the cases above, punishments for RICO violations can be quite severe. Along with stiff prison terms, RICO convictions also usually involve punitive damages and the seizures of ill-gotten funds, assets and businesses. Because of their wealth and criminal reach, RICO defendants are also usually deemed flight risks, which often results in astronomical bail amounts or even remand.
Anyone facing charges relating to the RICO Act should talk to a criminal defense attorney immediately.
Racketeering means operating an illegal business for profit, or engaging in fraudulent schemes. Racketeering is charged under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. RICO. This encompasses a large number of criminal offenses – such as extortion, money laundering, federal drug offenses, murder, gambling, arson, bribery ,counterfeiting, and anything else criminal – connected with an “enterprise,” defined as any group or union or business, though not a legal entity. Racketeering prsoecutions and defenses are extremely, jargon heavy, complicated legal issues. In order to make sure you have the proper defense, you need a RICO law firm who understands how these cases are handled.
If you believe charges are imminent, you need to hire our law firm as soon as possible.
Consequences for a conviction of racketeering can include: long term imprisonment, probation, parole, loss of right to be bonded, payment of restitutions, forfeiture of assets, and significant fines. Defenses of racketeering can include: proving insufficient evidence, proving factual innocence, proving illegal police activity, showing lack of knowledge of the illegal activity.
Trustworthy NYC Rico Lawyers
RICO was designed to address organized crime. The RICO act targets activities which are in the furtherance of ongoing criminal organizations. RICO charges can be brought by both state and federal governments, and it’s a very typical federal indictment. The RICO can provides a civil cause of action, in order to recover damages that result from criminal actions. Under RICO, a person can get treble damages, which can lead to huge financial devastation to a defendant’s family and/or business. RICO charges are now mostly brought up against individuals/businesses, which is beyond the scope of the original act. There’s a list of designated crimes which fall under the scope of RICO. When a person/corporation commits 2 of the 35 potential criminal acts, within a period of 10 years, he/she can be prosecuted for RICO violations. RICO cases are known as high profile cases for prosecutors – which gives them great incentive to turn them into witch hunts – in order to generate immense media attention. In many cases, people at the wrong place / wrong time, are caught up in these witch hunts and wrongly prosecuted.
Federal prosecutors often take a vital role in these cases, by relying on the federal government to provide immense resources. If you’re facing a RICO accusation, you need to have an NYC rico lawyer who understands how to fight and win these cases. One of the dangers of RICO cases is that the prosecutor will do his level best to get an order, before trial, to seize your assets. This can lead to extreme hardship for you and your family – who rely on the seized assets in order to meet your basic needs. Legal penalties for RICO can be severe, with a potential for a 20 year prison term.
Criminal activities covered under RICO
Drug dealing (as regulated by the Controlled Substances Act);
Engaging in activities involving obscene materials;
Obstruction of justice;
Participating in activities involving the illegal entry of individuals into the United States;
Violations of state gambling statutes.