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.