On October 15, 1970, the United States Congress passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act, which was groundbreaking legislation aimed at destroying the Mafia. What is RICO and how it is used today is vastly different than its’ original intended target. RICO is almost never used against organized crime, but primarily applied to individuals, businesses, certain political groups and terrorist organizations.
RICO Offenses and Penalties
For the RICO laws to be applied to an offender, they must be guilty of violating 2 of the 35 statutes within a period of 10 years. RICO charges are aimed at proving a pattern of behavior, rather than an individual criminal act. The specific goal was to punish individuals for using an enterprise to engage in criminal activities, such as gambling, loan sharking, extortion and transporting stolen goods. A defendant who is convicted will be fined and sentenced to a prison term of not more than 20 years for each RICO violation. The convicted offender must forfeit all assets that were gained during commission of the crimes, even those involving legitimate businesses. The law outlines RICO offenses as the following criminal acts:
- State laws against gambling, murder, kidnapping, arson, robbery, bribery, extortion, and dealing in obscene matter or controlled substances (those that are listed in the Controlled Substances Act).
- Acts of bribery, counterfeiting, theft, embezzlement, fraud, dealing in obscene matter, obstruction of justice, slavery, racketeering, gambling, money laundering, murder for hire, and other crimes outlines in Title 18 of the Federal Criminal Code.
- Embezzlement of union funds
- Bankruptcy or securities fraud
- Drug trafficking and money laundering
- Smuggling illegal aliens for financial gain
- Certain acts of terrorism
All assets of the suspect can be frozen before trial begins to prevent them from being liquidated or hidden. Individuals who are victimized by criminal organizations may file a civil lawsuit under the RICO statute. If they are successful, victims are entitled to collect triple the damages, along with attorney fees and court costs.
Rules of Evidence in RICO Cases
All RICO cases are tried in federal courts and the prosecutor only needs to prove a “preponderance of the evidence”, rather than the usual criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt”. The U.S. attorneys prosecuting the case only needs to prove to the judge and jury that the defendant appears to have engaged in those criminal activities as defined in RICO.
Why You Need a Defense Attorney
The laws under which a person can be convicted under the RICO Act carry severe consequences and penalties. Business owners and executives may find themselves under federal investigation for white-collar crimes, such as wire fraud or tax evasion. People can be charged with conspiracy without even knowing that they committed a crime. If you are facing federal criminal or civil RICO charges, you need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney who may be able to get the charges reduced in exchange for testimony against the other parties involved.