For over 50 years, federal prosecutors have used the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, commonly known as RICO, to go after people who they believed committed some form of interstate fraud.
Per the U.S. Department of Justice, Congress passed this law in 1970 to help federal law enforcement officials and prosecutors fight organized crime, i.e., the Mafia. Today, however, anyone can face RICO charges if alleged to have committed any of a variety of financial crimes, including the following:
- Money laundering
- Mail fraud
To convict you of a RICO crime, the prosecutor must prove all of the following:
- Existence of an enterprise
- Your association with it
- Commission by you and the enterprise of one or more predicates, i.e., illegal acts, affecting interstate commerce
- Racketeering pattern
For RICO purposes, an enterprise consists of an association of like-minded people. For instance, it could be a formal business entity such as a partnership or corporation. It could also, however, be an informal arrangement between and among like-minded people.
Your association or affiliation with the enterprise likewise could be formal or informal. The enterprise does not need to actually employ you. Any indication that you helped further its objectives qualifies.
With regard to what constitutes a racketeering pattern, the prosecutor has two choices: closed-end and open-ended. If he or she can prove that you and the enterprise committed two or more predicates within the space of 10 years, this qualifies as a closed-end racketeering pattern. Conversely, if he or she can prove that you and the enterprise committed only one predicate, but intended to commit additional predicates in the future, this qualifies as an open-ended racketeering pattern.