What is RICO: Everything You Need To Know

Todd Bennett

What is the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO)?

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act is known as RICO. For actions taken as part of a continuing criminal organization, a federal law in the United States offers increased criminal penalties as well as civil causes of action. Racketeering, which is the practice of obtaining money or property by dishonest tactics including extortion, fraud, or bribery, is the focus of the RICO Act.

RICO permits criminal prosecution and civil fines for racketeering activities committed as a component of an ongoing business. In cases involving organized crime, white-collar crime, and political corruption, it is frequently employed.

What types of activities does RICO prohibit?

The following activities are under the purview of RICO’s restrictions, which go far beyond the conventional understanding of what constitutes criminal behaviour in the United States:

  • Racketeering: This category includes illegal activities such as bribery, extortion, fraud, embezzlement, and laundering illicitly obtained funds.
  • Pattern of racketeering activity: At least two instances of racketeering that are linked to one another are required for there to be sufficient evidence of a “pattern” of illegal behaviour.
  • Investment of racketeering income: This word refers to either the act of investing in a business or continuing to engage in a firm using cash obtained from racketeering activities.
  • Acquisition or maintenance of an interest in an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity: Racketeering refers to the practice of obtaining or maintaining dominance over a firm by using unethical or unlawful means.
  • Conducting or participating in the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity: This is a reference to leading or participating in the management or operation of a business while engaging in racketeering activity, which is a crime.

In addition, the Act creates a legal remedy that can be used by private parties to seek retribution from those who violate the law.

How does RICO differ from other criminal laws?

There are several ways that RICO is different from other criminal laws:

  • While other criminal statutes may cover a wide range of activities, RICO concentrates particularly on racketeering and organized crime.
  • RICO enables legal action to be taken against people and organizations who have engaged in racketeering behaviour on the civil and criminal levels. Usually, other criminal statutes only allow for criminal prosecution.
  • Unlike many other criminal laws, RICO has a lengthier statute of limitations, so even if the underlying criminal action took place many years ago, people and organizations can still be charged with violating RICO.
  • RICO also carries harsher punishments for individuals found guilty, such as longer prison terms and larger fines than those permitted by other criminal laws.
  • Any assets and properties acquired by or used in the conduct of racketeering activities must be forfeited under RICO.
  • A wide range of people are subject to liability under RICO, including not only the main perpetrators of a racketeering scheme but also those who help and abet it as well as those who have reaped any financial or other benefits from it.

What are the penalties for violating RICO?

The penalties for violating RICO can be severe.

  1. Criminal Penalties: RICO offences are classified as federal crimes, and anyone found guilty might face lengthy jail terms. The maximum sentence for a RICO violation is 20 years in prison, but if the violation is connected to certain specific crimes like murder or drug trafficking, the sentence may be increased to life in prison.
  2. Civil Penalties: RICO also enables private citizens to launch civil actions against people or businesses that have broken the law. In the event that a private person or organization is found accountable in a RICO civil case, they may be required to pay treble damages, which entails paying three times the plaintiff’s real damages.
  3. Forfeiture: Any assets and properties acquired by or used in the conduct of racketeering activities must be forfeited under RICO. This covers any gains from the racketeering activity as well as any assetsβ€”like real estate, vehicles, and bank accountsβ€”that were utilized to make the activity possible.
  4. Disqualification from Certain Professions: Some RICO convictions may also result in a person being barred from practicing law, trading stocks, or working as an accountant.
  5. Other Consequences: Other serious repercussions of a RICO conviction include reputational harm, job loss, problems with immigration, and trouble getting loans or credit.

Can RICO be used to target legitimate businesses?

RICO may prosecute a racketeering business. The RICO Act applies to criminal enterprises and any group of people who are joined together but not legal entities, such as a firm, partnership, or association.

RICO was intended to combat organised crime, and prosecutors must prove that a legitimate firm engaged in racketeering activities to seek charges under the Act. Targeting a firm for the crimes of a few partners or employees is illegal.

RICO has also been criticised for targeting legal businesses and people. Others say RICO is too broad and can punish legitimate business practises.

RICO claims require the plaintiff to prove a history of racketeering and the defendant’s specific intent to participate in the enterprise. This suggests that proving a RICO case against a genuine corporation requires a lot of evidence.

Are there any defenses to RICO charges?

Yes, there are a number of ways to fight back against RICO accusations. Among the most popular defenses are:

Lack of intent

The government must prove that the defendant intended to join the racketeering enterprise to convict them of RICO. RICO violations cannot occur if the defendant did not intend to participate in the racketeering operation.

Lack of pattern of racketeering activity

RICO requires defendants to prove racketeering involvement. The government must prove racketeering to convict a defendant of RICO.

Statute of limitations

RICO’s statute of limitations is longer than most criminal legislation, yet it exists. RICO violations before or after the statute of limitations cannot be prosecuted.

Insufficient evidence

The government must prove each aspect of a RICO offence. The defendant must be convicted of a RICO offence by the government.

Legitimate business activity

RICO’s purpose is to fight organized crime, not punish respectable businesses. RICO defendants can prove their activities were legal.

Frequently Ask Questions

Can RICO be used at the state level?

Some states have passed RICO-like laws that can be used to punish comparable crimes. State or municipal law enforcement may enforce these RICO statutes, which may have varying standards and punishments.

How does RICO affect civil lawsuits?

RICO also empowers private parties to sue an enterprise and its members for damages caused by its criminal activity. This “civil RICO” case provides for treble damages and attorney’s fees.

Can RICO be used to target government corruption?

As long as the prosecution can prove a pattern of illegal activity through an ongoing organisation or enterprise, RICO can be utilised to attack government corruption. RICO does not apply to government officials’ official crimes.

What are some notable RICO cases?

The Gambino and Genovese crime families and Enron and Tyco are among the most notorious RICO cases. RICO has also been used to prosecute drug cartels and street gangs and sue tobacco firms and sports teams.

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Todd Bennett is a five-year criminal defense attorney. He is dedicated to defending the accused and has won several criminal cases. Todd Bennett uses his significant criminal justice experience to create customized defense tactics for each client. Todd Bennett frequently speaks at legal gatherings, offering his criminal defense expertise and staying abreast of industry advancements. Criminal defendants trust Todd Bennett's vigorous advocacy and commitment to client success.