RICO — or the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act — is a far-reaching federal law that allows for criminal prosecutions and civil lawsuits related to a wide variety of offenses, many of which are white collar crimes.
In general, the RICO statutes provide for extended criminal and civil penalties for unlawful acts performed in connection with a criminal organization. The law was passed by Congress in part to address a perceived loophole that allowed for individuals to avoid prosecution after ordering crimes to be committed or otherwise participating indirectly in a crime.
What Crimes Does RICO Cover?
Prosecutors are particularly fond of RICO charges because the statutes can be applied very generally — both in criminal prosecutions and civil lawsuits. In a civil capacity, a plaintiff may sue for treble damages.
“Racketeering activity,” as defined in the RICO statutes, may include the following:
- Money laundering
- Mail fraud
- Wire fraud
- Securities fraud
- Obstruction of justice
- Copyright infringement
- Illegal gambling
- Illegal transmission of information related to gambling
- Falsification of citizenship papers
- Drug trafficking
- Violent crimes, including murder, robbery, arson and kidnapping
- Acts of terrorism
What Must The Prosecution Prove To Convict Someone Under RICO?
That a person engaged in a pattern of criminal activity must be proven for that person to be convicted under RICO. The law specifies that the person must have committed at least two of the prohibited activities defined in the statutes.
A pattern of criminal activity may be found if the acts under consideration are characterized by the same or similar methods, purposes, participants or victims — or the acts otherwise share characteristics and are not isolated incidents.
The prosecution must also prove that a criminal enterprise existed and that its activities had an effect on interstate commerce.
These requirements are in addition to any material facts used to prove that a single criminal act occurred.
What Are The Possible Penalties For RICO Violations?
Being convicted on a single count of racketeering is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and a fine of up to two times the value of the defendant’s illegal profits may be imposed.
However, if the predicate crime is punishable by life imprisonment — such as with murder — then that sentence may be imposed.
Additionally, through asset forfeiture, the government may take any of the defendant’s assets that were obtained or maintained through racketeering.
If a defendant’s alleged racketeering is believed to have caused financial harm to another party, then the defendant may also be sued in a civil capacity for damages.
If the plaintiff’s civil lawsuit is successful, the defendant may be held liable for treble damages (triple damages) and the plaintiff’s attorney fees.
Additionally, if a corporation or any other organization is found to have engaged in racketeering, the court may order the organization to be dissolved.