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Facing Federal RICO Charges? How a Lawyer Can Defend You

By Spodek Law Group | October 20, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 27, 2023)

Last Updated on: 27th October 2023, 06:53 pm


Facing Federal RICO Charges? How a Lawyer Can Defend You

Being charged with a federal crime can be an incredibly scary and overwhelming experience. RICO charges, in particular, can carry heavy penalties and long prison sentences if convicted. But with the right legal defense, you may be able to get the charges reduced or even dismissed.

In this article, we’ll break down exactly what RICO charges are, what penalties you may face, and most importantly—how a knowledgeable lawyer can defend you against them. We’ll also discuss common strategies and precedents that attorneys use to protect their clients in these cases.

What are RICO Charges?

RICO stands for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a federal law passed in 1970 to combat organized crime. It allows prosecutors to charge members of a criminal enterprise for crimes committed as part of an ongoing criminal organization.

RICO charges can include a wide range of underlying crimes, such as:

  • Money laundering
  • Bribery
  • Murder
  • Kidnapping
  • Arson
  • Drug trafficking
  • Counterfeiting
  • Embezzlement
  • Securities fraud
  • Cybercrimes

The main purpose of RICO is to allow prosecutors to hold leaders of criminal organizations responsible for crimes they ordered others to commit or assisted in committing. So even if a mob boss didn’t personally murder someone, they can still be charged under RICO for orchestrating the murder.

Penalties for RICO Convictions

A RICO conviction can lead to severe consequences. Maximum penalties under federal RICO law include:

  • Up to 20 years in prison per racketeering count
  • Forfeiture of any property obtained through racketeering
  • Fines of up to $250,000 per count

In addition, any proceeds of racketeering activity can be seized by the government. Because RICO charges often involve the activities of an ongoing criminal organization, defendants frequently face multiple racketeering counts that can result in decades behind bars.

How an Attorney Can Defend Against RICO Charges

Fighting federal RICO charges requires an experienced defense lawyer. Here are some of the most common strategies criminal defense attorneys use:

Question the “Enterprise”

One key element prosecutors must prove is that an “enterprise” existed. This enterprise must have an ongoing organization or structure beyond just committing the predicate crimes. Your lawyer may argue there was no evidence of a structured criminal enterprise, just individuals acting alone.

Dispute the Pattern of Racketeering

Prosecutors must show a “pattern” of racketeering activity committed over an extended period of time. Your attorney can argue the alleged acts were isolated incidents, not an organized pattern.

Challenge Predicate Acts

The racketeering charges must be based on other criminal “predicate acts.” Your lawyer can argue the evidence doesn’t support the underlying charges of money laundering, fraud, etc. For example, if the predicate act is fraud, your attorney may argue you lacked criminal intent.

Assert an Affirmative Defense

Affirmative defenses like duress, coercion, or diminished mental capacity could potentially defeat RICO charges. Your lawyer may argue you only participated in the enterprise under threat of violence, or that you lacked the mental state to willfully participate.

Argue Constitutional Violations

If police violated your constitutional rights in obtaining evidence, your lawyer can file a motion to suppress the evidence. For example, if officers conducted an illegal search violating the 4th Amendment, the prosecution may lack the evidence to prove the RICO charges.

Negotiate a Plea Bargain

Given the steep penalties, your attorney may be able to negotiate a plea deal to lesser charges with a reduced sentence. This involves extensive negotiations with the prosecution weighing the strength of the evidence versus the benefit of avoiding trial.


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