You may have heard “RICO” mentioned on various police shows…or you might realize you’re up against RICO charges right now. Either way, it’s not a term that’s in common, everyday use.
“RICO” stands for “racketeering influenced and corrupt organizations.” The RICO Act is a law that covers a multitude of activity.
Racketeering is organized, and is a method of profiting, with the help of an organization of any kind, through illegal activity such as kidnapping, murder, bribery, arson, wire fraud, mail fraud, economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, money laundering, or extortion. The statute is exceptionally broad. There are over 35 crimes associated with the RICO Act. The RICO Act grouped all of these crimes together because prior to 1970, law enforcement could only prosecute mob-related crimes individually, which made it more difficult to shut down organized crime.
In order to be found guilty of a RICO crime, the government must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
- An enterprise existed.
- The enterprise affected interstate commerce.
- The defendant was associated with or employed by the enterprise.
- The defendant engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity.
- The defendant conducted or participated in the conduct of the enterprise through that pattern of activity through the commission of at least two acts of racketeering activity. These acts must be committed within ten years of each other.
These laws are used to target organized crime rings, gangs, and businesses or corporations involved in RICO activities. RICO also has a civil component: civil litigants can assert RICO claims to increase the value of business lawsuits.
Civil RICO claims are more common than criminal RICO claims, but you should take criminal RICO claims very seriously if you’re being investigated or charged under these laws. Many experts are stating that these laws should be abolished because they can add at least 20 years to a conviction, or push the sentence of a few decades up to a life sentence.
Often, defendants are so intimidated by RICO charges that they cave in and accept a plea deal, even if they would have otherwise had good cases. They’ve even been weaponized to go after people who were in political disfavor.
RICO claims are often used to sweep up “bit players” who may not have even known criminal activity was happening, all with the goal of forcing them to testify against the defendants they’re really after. If you’re one of these bit players these claims can nevertheless ruin your life if you don’t have a qualified federal criminal defense attorney by your side. a