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How much prison time do federal racketeering charges carry?

By Spodek Law Group | October 16, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 17, 2023)

Last Updated on: 17th October 2023, 04:59 pm

How Much Prison Time Do Federal Racketeering Charges Carry?

Racketeering charges are no joke – they can lead to serious prison time at the federal level. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) was passed in 1970 to help prosecutors go after organized crime syndicates. But these days, federal racketeering laws are used in all sorts of cases involving multiple defendants and complex criminal conspiracies[1].

So how much time are you looking at if convicted? Well, it depends on a lot of factors. But generally speaking, federal racketeering carries stiff penalties[2].

The Basics of Racketeering

Let’s start with the basics. Racketeering involves participating in a “criminal enterprise” – basically an organized group that engages in illegal activity[3]. To be convicted under RICO, prosecutors have to prove two things:

  • You committed at least two specific racketeering crimes within 10 years
  • Those crimes were connected to the criminal enterprise

The racketeering crimes can include anything from murder, kidnapping, and arson to drug trafficking, gambling, extortion, bribery, and money laundering[4].

RICO also makes it illegal to conspire to commit racketeering, even if you don’t actually carry out the crimes yourself[5]. So you can face charges just for planning illegal activities as part of a criminal enterprise.

Penalties for a RICO Conviction

Now onto the penalties. A RICO conviction under federal law carries:

  • Up to 20 years in prison per racketeering count[2]
  • Fines of up to $250,000 per count[5]

But here’s the kicker – if any of the racketeering activities involved murder or other serious violent crimes, there is NO LIMIT on the prison sentence. You could be looking at life behind bars or even the death penalty[4].

In addition to jail time, a RICO conviction can also lead to forfeiture of any property connected to the criminal enterprise[5]. So you could lose your home, bank accounts, vehicles, businesses – you name it.

Sentencing Factors in Racketeering Cases

Federal judges use sentencing guidelines to determine prison time in racketeering cases. Some of the key factors include[1]:

  • Your role in the enterprise – leaders and organizers often get longer sentences
  • Your criminal history score
  • How much money was involved in the racketeering activities
  • Whether violence or threats were used
  • How many victims were harmed
  • Whether you accept responsibility or show remorse

Prosecutors will often stack additional charges on top of the RICO counts, like money laundering, wire fraud, drug trafficking, etc. Each added charge can add years to your potential prison sentence.

Defending Against Racketeering Charges

Facing racketeering charges? Don’t go it alone. Hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer right away. An attorney may be able to get charges reduced or dismissed by:

  • Challenging the racketeering enterprise’s existence
  • Disputing if crimes were connected or part of a “pattern”
  • Questioning if actions really benefited the enterprise
  • Arguing there wasn’t intent to participate in racketeering
  • Identifying procedural errors or problems with evidence

In some cases, cooperating with prosecutors and providing evidence about higher-ups in the organization can also lead to reduced charges or lighter sentences. But don’t even consider this without talking to a lawyer first.

The Bottom Line

Racketeering is among the most serious charges in the federal criminal code. While the maximum is 20 years per count, sentences of decades behind bars are common – especially for leaders involved in violence. Cooperating with authorities or pleading to reduced charges may be the best route to minimize prison time. But don’t take any action until you consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Your freedom depends on it.

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