What is a RICO crime?

You likely hear stories of confrontations between law enforcement authorities and organized crime rings and immediately dismiss the notion of you ever becoming caught up in such activity. That is what makes the news of you facing charges of racketeering so shocking.

Most people might think racketeering involves widespread violence. Yet a “racket” is actually any illegal business. Its association with organized crime is largely due to a federal law known as the Racketeer Influenced and Corruptions Act. This has led many to refer to racketeering charges as RICO crimes.

The far-reaching application of RICO

The RICO Act allows authorities to prosecute people for the alleged association with criminal rackets. This contributes to its link to organized crime, as prior to the Act’s enactment, law enforcement officials could not bring charges against high-level organized crime bosses due to them not directly committing the illegal business activities their groups supposedly engaged in. Under the RICO Act, those parties can now face charges for any indirect involvement.

This law also allows authorities to expand the application of the RICO Act to situations beyond those popularly associated with organized crime. This is how you might find yourself facing criminal scrutiny for racketeering activity, as (in theory) the RICO Act makes it a crime to work for any enterprise allegedly engaged in illegal interstate commerce.

Five factors needed to support racketeering charges

Yet your mere association with a business accused of illegal activity is not enough to support federal racketeering charges. Per the U.S. Department of Justice, authorities must prove the following:

  • A criminal enterprise existed
  • The enterprise affected interstate commerce
  • You worked for or with the enterprise
  • You engaged in a pattern of racketeering
  • That pattern included at least two incidents of racketeering

Thus, there must be concrete proof of your participation in illegal activity to merit a conviction.