What is a RICO charge?

In terms of white-collar crimes (fraud, money laundering, or security and antitrust violations) in the United States, RICO cases are among the most serious. The government will use all available resources to pursue a RICO case against you if the evidence is there. The criminal investigations associated with these cases are often lengthy and complex. It’s not uncommon for a defendant to undergo a very thorough sweep of their financial records. Punishment and convictions for RICO cases are severe and can ruin someone’s life financially, professionally, and personally.    

In this blog, we’ll explain what a RICO case is and what constitutes a RICO crime.   

What is RICO charge?  

RICO stands for the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The U.S. law was enacted in 1970 to take down organized crime as depicted in movies like Scarface and the show “The Sopranos.” The gist of the law is that if prosecutors can show that there’s an organization of people who commit crimes together on a recurring basis as a group or gang, then any single gang member can be prosecuted for any of the crimes the organization may commit.    

This federal law makes it illegal to acquire or control a business through certain crimes or income from the crimes. It is deemed illegal to participate, even indirectly, in certain crimes committed by a business or to conspire to commit any crimes.   

Prior to the RICO Act, prosecutors could only individually try crime that was mob-related. They could take down an individual criminal member responsible for committing the crime, but not the entire mob as a whole. While this law was created to prosecute gangs and mobs, it’s been utilized for far more – street gangs and politicians alike are prosecuted under RICO.    

What is Racketeering?  

Racketeering is not a single crime or a single criminal act. Instead, it’s an organized and illegally coordinated scheme to repeatedly collect a profit. It can include various different crimes that occur over a duration of time.   

RICO Laws for Business 

The RICO Act applies to crimes that are somehow connected, linked or performed on behalf of an enterprise or business. This means that any kind of organization, union, or corporation including churches, politicians, and nonprofits are also subject to a conviction of crimes under this category. In most cases, employment alone is grounds to be held liable under RICO.   

A major source of concern with the RICO Act is that it fails to explicitly outline which groups are under strict scrutiny and instead holds any kind of enterprise accountable for unlawful actions that may be committed in relation to or on its behalf. The law makes it unlawful for any person employed by or associated with any enterprise to conduct or participate in a violation of the law.   

RICO Conspiracy Cases  

Although it is still associated with prosecuting organized crime, the RICO Act is very broad and allows prosecutors to bring RICO charges for many different types of cases unrelated to gangs or mobs. As an example, in 2015 dozens of individuals were part of a college admissions scheme and charged with bribery under the RICO Act.  Here are some famous Rico act cases exmples

What Crimes Fall Under the RICO Act 

The RICO Act applies to thirty-five different criminal offenses, such as illegal gambling, arson, money laundering, prostitution, collection of unlawful debt, counterfeiting, kidnapping, and murder for hire.  

Additional crimes included are:  

  • Slavery  
  • Human trafficking  
  • Trafficking drugs or weapons  
  • Tampering with a witness and obstruction of justice  
  • Copyright infringement  
  • Acts of Terrosim  
  • Homicide  
  • False use of a passport  
  • Mail fraud  
  • Robbery  
  • Wire fraud  

Prosecution Under Racketeer Influenced And Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) 

To successfully convict someone under the RICO Act, federal prosecutors must prove a criminal enterprise existed, that the enterprise affected interstate commerce, that the defendant was associated with or employed by the enterprise (legal or illegal), that the defendant engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity, and that the defendant participated in at least two acts of racketeering activity over a ten-year period. It’s crucial for the prosecution to prove these are “predicate” offenses (crimes that are a component of a more serious crime) in order to prosecute under RICO.    

Penalties for RICO Conviction   

A RICO conviction has serious consequences. The RICO statute includes penalties of 20 years in prison along with severe financial fines. A person convicted under RICO can face a fine of $250,000 or double the amount earned from the illegal activity or criminal act. Depending on the crime, prison time can increase up to a life sentence.   

To prevent the enterprises from hiding their assets before a court ruling, RICO laws allow the government to freeze the assets of the defendant even before a trial. If convicted, the defendant forfeits their entire interest in the enterprise to the government. This loss is often significant enough to dismantle enterprises and prevent them from reorganizing.   

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