Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act
What is RICO Law?
RICO law refers to the prosecution and defense of individuals who engage in organized crime. In 1970, Congress passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act in an effort to combat Mafia groups. Since that time, the law has been expanded and used to go after a variety of organizations, from corrupt police departments to motorcycle gangs. RICO law should not be thought of as a way to punish the commission of an isolated criminal act. Rather, the law establishes severe consequences for those who engage in a pattern of wrongdoing as a member of a criminal enterprise.
Title 18, Section 1961 of the United States Code sets forth a long list of racketeering activities, the repeated commission of which can form the basis of a RICO Act claim. These underlying federal and state offenses exist independently of the act, and include the crimes of homicide, kidnapping, extortion, and witness tampering. Racketeering activities also include property crimes such as robbery and arson. A number of financial crimes are also listed, such as money laundering, counterfeiting, securities violations, as well as mail and wire fraud.
Penalties in Criminal Court
The RICO Act provides both criminal and civil penalties. This means claims can be brought by prosecutors on behalf of the government, or by private individuals. In criminal prosecutions, the jury must be convinced of the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the highest burden of proof that exists in the American legal system. Violations are punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The sentence can be increased to life in prison if authorized by the underlying crime. Offenders also face a fine of either $250,000, or double the amount of the proceeds earned from the activity.
As a tool for dismantling criminal enterprises, following a conviction the government is automatically given a forfeiture of all of the defendant’s interest in the organization. So not only do defendants lose all their money and property that can be traced back to the criminal conduct, but the organization itself can be severely crippled. And the government need not wait until after a guilty verdict, when the property expected to become subject to forfeiture may be difficult to locate. The rules of procedure in a RICO prosecution allow the government to freeze the defendant’s assets before the case even goes to trial.
Civil Remedies for Victims
For civil claims brought by private parties who have been victimized by a criminal organization, the burden of proof is less onerous than in criminal court. A preponderance of the evidence standard applies. This means the jury must find that it is at least slightly more likely than not that the racketeering activities did in fact happen as alleged. Despite the lower burden of proof, civil RICO lawsuits are difficult and expense for individuals to pursue. Those who win are rewarded, however. Successful plaintiffs can recover “treble damages,” or in other words, three times the amount of money they lost due to the defendant’s actions.
Specific Elements of a RICO Claim
Liability for a RICO violation requires that a person be involved in an enterprise that operates through a pattern of racketeering activity. This raises a couple of issues that will prove important to anyone defending or pursuing a RICO case. First, a controversy may arise as to what will satisfy the element requiring an enterprise. Corporations, partnerships, and other businesses will surely qualify as enterprises. But what about informal organizations, like street gangs?
The Supreme Court considered the issue, and determined that an enterprise can be any group with members who are associated in a relationship in order to achieve a common purpose, provided the relationship lasts long enough to allow them to pursue that purpose. In the terminology of RICO law, such groups are known as “association-in-fact” enterprises.
Another common issue concerns the element requiring a pattern of racketeering activity. The RICO Act itself defines the term pattern as two or more acts of racketeering activity within a 10-year period. However, the Supreme Court has weighed in on this issue as well. According to the Court, to qualify as a pattern, the criminal activities must be related and continuous. Relatedness will be established if the crimes have similar characteristics such as the same perpetrators, victims, and methods of commission. Continuity will be established if the crimes occurred over a substantial period of time. Some courts have interpreted this to mean at least one year.
The Importance of Legal Representation
Whether you are interested in filing a claim against a criminal enterprise, or need help defending a case brought against you, you will need experienced legal representation. A skilled attorney will use the complex provisions of the RICO Act to your benefit. To learn more, contact a RICO lawyer today.
Know Your Rights!
Articles About RICO
- Supreme Court to Law Enforcement: Do Not Freeze Untainted AssetsThe precedent was set in 1989. In a United States v. Monsanto case, the Supreme Court held that a suspect who violated the Continuing Criminal Enterprise (CCE) and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) should not have access to the funds obtained through illegal activity.
- Can the Government Take Away My Property?Through the process of forfeiture, the government may be able to take away the property of a civilian. This may be because the individual is involved in criminal activity or because he or she owns property that was involved in criminal activity.
- Is it Legal for Someone to Post my Private Photos Then Demand Money for Their Removal?Over the last few years, a number of unscrupulous websites have developed around Americans' increasing comfort with sharing private, intimate photos with one another. While the photos are usually not intended for public consumption, often after a rough breakup or other event in which the recipient is left unhappy, that person will post those photos for the world to see. But is this legal? More importantly, can the site where the photos are posted legally charge you to take them down?
- A History of American Gaming LawsGambling is restricted in America, though its popularity is increasing. Laws regarding gambling are important not only for those involved with gaming operations, like casinos, bingo, or poker tournaments, but also for the average person who wants to know whether he can legally start a betting pool among his friends or at his office, has an idea for a new business model involving some form of chance, or if he can legally participate in an online poker tournament.
- Did You Know Your Fantasy Football League Might be Illegal?Millions of Americans engage in creating fantasy football teams. It can be a fun way to add an extra layer of enjoyment to the season and, for some, to add an extra investment in the fan's favorite players and teams. While most fans only worry about who they will start on their fantasy team on Sunday, if their league has an entry fee or awards prizes, they may be engaging in illegal activity.
- What is RICO?RICO stands for the “Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations” Act. It was a groundbreaking piece of legislation passed in the United States in 1970 with the goal of financially crippling the Mafia. However, it has evolved to have a variety of applications today against many organizations aside from the Mafia.
- Basic Overview of RICO ChargesRICO Charges, Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations charges are extremely serious as it is not considered an individual's crime against society, but has harsher penalties due to the organized crime aspect in these charges.
- Computer Crimes in New York CityThe term "computer crimes" is not one often heard in criminal news. Most people don't even realize it exists. Nevertheless, it is specifically addressed by most states' legislatures.
- Federal Wire Fraud Crimes In New York CityThe Federal Wire Fraud Statute is one of the most used tools in federal prosecutions of white collar and business crimes. Together with the Mail Fraud Statute, it is the work horse of federal prosecutors in white collar criminal cases.
- Religious, Racial Profiling Justified in McCarthy Era Inspired InvestigationsThe September 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City, and the reaction to those terrorist attacks by President George Bush’s administration, left this nation with a tragic and despicable legacy that has tarnished our great Country’s reputation and image worldwide.
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Articles written by attorneys and experts worldwide discussing legal aspects related to Criminal Law including: arson, assault, battery, bribery, burglary, child abuse, child pornography, computer crime, controlled substances, credit card fraud, criminal defense, criminal law, drugs and narcotics, DUI, DWI, embezzlement, fraud, expungements, felonies, homicide, identity theft, manslaughter, money laundering, murder, perjury, prostitution, rape, RICO, robbery, sex crimes, shoplifting, theft, weapons, white collar crime and wire fraud.
RICO Law - US
Organizations Related to RICO Law
RICO Law - International
- Centre for International Crime Prevention
- CIA Annual Strategic Intelligence Review - International Organized Crime
- Criminal Intelligence Service Canada (CISC)
- Europol - European Law Enforcement Agency
- International Association for the Study of Organized Crime (IASOC)
- Interpol - Organized Crime
- United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols