RICO (Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act) was originally passed by Congress in 1970, and signed into law by President Nixon, to prosecute members of organized crime. In the 1970′s organized crime was a dilemma that the federal government wanted to control. By passing the RICO Act, prosecutors had more tools to get the convictions they desired.
Since then it has been expanded to include a variety of crimes, such as:
- Mail and Wire Fraud
- Drug Trafficking
- Money Laundering
- Bankruptcy and Securities Fraud
- Insider Trading
- Obstruction of Justice
- Copyright Infringement
Under the conditions of RICO, a person who commits “at least two acts of racketeering activity” from a list of 35 different crimes (27 under federal criminal law and 8 under criminal state laws), in a 10-year period can be charged with racketeering. The penalties for RICO crimes are $25,000 in fines and up to 20 years in prison to life. Additionally, the defendant must forfeit all money or property gotten through illegal activity.
RICO charges are not as difficult to prove as some other crimes, because it focuses on criminal behavior instead of criminal acts. To prove a pattern, there must be two racketeering acts. The Supreme Court stated that acts are related if they “have the same or similar purposes, results, participants, victims, or methods of commission, or otherwise are interrelated by distinguishing characteristics and are not isolated events.” (H.J. Inc. v. Northwestern Bell Telephone Co. 492 US 229 (1989))
Four Elements of RICO:
- Racketeering activity
RICO still finds members of organized crime, but more and more RICO is associated with white-collar crimes, where there is a long-term relationship. Some Rico relationships are quid pro quo, and others resemble extortion rings, or a predatory relationship.
The RICO act does not have a statute of limitations, although, in civil RICO cases, the Supreme Court has held that four years after the discovery should be adhered to.
RICO has been used in cases against police departments; Catholic priests accused of sexual molestation, Hells Angels Motorcycle club, and numerous business executives involved in ponzi schemes. RICO claims can also be made in civil lawsuits, not just criminal cases.
With every case prosecuted under the Rico statute, it becomes more vague and further from its intended purpose. So, is RICO morphing to conform to the new challenges of society or has it become a lynchpin for eager prosecutors? The RICO statute defines racketeering activity, but the list is expanding all the time, through case law at the state and federal level. The RICO act is still developing.
RICO charges are very serious and should never be faced without the assistance of an experienced attorney. Criminal defense attorneys are the firewall between the power of the state and the rights of the accused. If you have been charged or indicted under RICO, you must retain an attorney as soon as possible to achieve the best defense possible.
Call Carroll Troberman, PLLC to set up a free consultation today.