What is RICO Law?

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly referred to as the RICO Act (or simply RICO), is a federal statute that lays out harsh criminal and civil penalties for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization. It was enacted as part of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, and used initially to prosecute the Mafia. Its later application has been more widespread. Now, the statute is commonly used as an instrument to hold “enterprises” liable for engaging in “racketeering” activity over an extended period of time.

What is an Enterprise?

An enterprise may be an illegitimate enterprise, e.g., a Mafia family, or a wholly legitimate enterprise, e.g., a corporation. Although an enterprise can be a legal entity, such as a partnership, corporation or association, it can also be an individual or simply a relatively loose-knit group of people or legal entities. These latter groups are referred to as “association-in-fact” enterprises under the statute.

What is Racketeering?

In RICO law, racketeering, for purposes of these charges means a pattern of illegal activities carried out by a member of the enterprise. For RICO charges to apply, there must be a pattern of illegal activity. The Supreme Court has instructed that a pattern may be found if the acts under consideration have the same or similar purposes, participants, victims, or methods, or are otherwise related by distinguishing characteristics and are not isolated events.

Under the RICO Act, a pattern is established when a person commits two of the Act’s prohibited activities in a 10 year period. There are 35 prohibited activities, spanning across a wide variety of nonviolent crimes (like bribery, extortion, fraud, and embezzlement) and violent crimes (like murder, kidnaping, and arson).

RICO Charges & Penalties

Determined prosecutors have incentives to pursue RICO cases. Not only are there enhanced penalties, but when a person is indicted under RICO, the prosecutor has discretion to try to seize the accused person’s assets.

The maximum criminal penalties for violating RICO include a $25,000 fine and imprisonment for 20 years. These penalties are imposed on top of the criminal penalties resulting from two or more substantive offenses that the individual or organization has committed in the 10-year period.

How did RICO law Changed the Fraud Landscape?

While it took some time for federal prosecutors to fully understand and incorporate RICO into their array of prosecutorial tools, the statute has been increasingly used and has realized much success. By 1990, more than 1,000 major and minor organized crime figures had been convicted and given lengthy prison sentences under RICO. It proved especially valuable in pursuit of organized crime networks’ senior leaders who, being far removed from the individual criminal acts perpetrated by low-level members, were previously out of prosecutors’ reach. Not so after RICO. All members of the enterprise are liable for the racketeering activity carried out by any other member.

Notable RICO law Cases

There are many famous RICO Act cases throughout U.S. legal history, including:

  • Gambino Crime Family

    In 2006 in Florida, several members of the Gambino crime family were tried under the RICO Act and sentenced to life in prison. The list of charges brought in the case included extortion, drug trafficking, assaults, loansharking, and gambling.

  • The Hells Angels

    The federal government brought RICO Act charges against the Hells Angels motorcycle club located in Oakland, California in connection with the alleged manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine. In addition to the drug-related charges, prosecutors also accused the club of various other crimes, including murder and attempted murder. The case involved two federal trials — both of which ended in mistrials.

  • Latin Kings

    There have been two major RICO Act cases involving the gang known as the Latin Kings. Prosecutors first brought charges against gang leaders in 2006 in Tampa, Florida. In 2015, a federal grand jury issued indictments against 61 Latin Kings gang members involved in a drug distribution scheme in Texas.

RICO Lawyers

Whether you want to go to trial or want a quiet settlement, you need a lawyer with the knowledge and experience to help you fight for the best possible outcome in your case. Having a lawyer before you talk to a police officer or federal agent is one of your rights as an American and it is wise to talk with a lawyer before you try to “go it alone” against powerful and experienced opposing forces. Lawyers at Gaskins Bennett & Birrell have handled many complex RICO cases involving unique legal and factual issues. Effective lawyers have to have a savvy understanding of these issues and a determination to wade through the facts and tell your side of the story.

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Andrew Birrell

Managing Partner

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