The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO Act) was passed in 1970 with the aim of eradicating organized crime. It focuses on “racketeering,” which comes to us from the Prohibition-era phrase, “running rackets.” However, the RICO Act is not limited to fighting financial rackets and illegal gambling rings.
Today, the RICO Act is used to criminally prosecute any type of corrupt or criminal organization, including gangs, drug cartels, corrupt officials, counterfeiting rings and even human trafficking organizations.
To be charged under the RICO Act, there must be a criminal conspiracy that affects interstate or international commerce. That criminal enterprise must have undertaken a pattern of racketeering activity. Racketeering activity is broadly defined and includes a long list of crimes such as:
- Money laundering
- Illegal gambling
- Collection of unlawful debt (“protection racket”)
- Copyright infringement
- Murder for hire
- Human trafficking
- Trafficking in controlled substances
- Trafficking in weapons
- Witness tampering
- Obstruction of justice
What do prosecutors have to prove in a RICO Act case?
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, federal prosecutors must prove five main things in order to convict someone of a RICO Act violation:
- That there was a criminal enterprise
- That the enterprise affected interstate or foreign commerce
- That the person was employed by or associated with the enterprise
- That the person engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity
- That the person took part in at least two acts of racketeering within 10 years
A defense to a RICO Act prosecution might focus on showing that the prosecution failed to prove one or more of these things. For example, even if the person had been convicted of several crimes over a ten-year period, the prosecution might not be able to prove those crimes were related.
The RICO Act authorizes property seizures
A striking aspect of the RICO Act is that it allows the government to seize any money or property it alleges is intended for the use of, or derived from or the proceeds of, a racketeering enterprise. This was meant to strip organized criminal organizations of their operating capital and profits so they could not continue operating.
Unfortunately for those whose property is seized, you do not automatically get it back if you are found not guilty. You have to prove to the court that the property was not associated with a criminal enterprise.
If you think you’re facing a RICO charge, you need to act fast
The best time to get a criminal defense attorney involved is as early as possible, even if you’re only under investigation. The investigation stage is the best time to resolve the situation, but you can’t afford to act without an attorney’s advice.
RICO Act prosecutions involve proving you have committed numerous crimes as part of a conspiracy. You need an aggressive defense by someone with substantial experience in federal criminal cases.