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RICO: Understanding RICO Act crimes and charges

The Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act of 1970 changed the prosecution of organized crime. The RICO Act is a list of 35 crimes, 27 federal crimes and eight state crimes. It creates civil and criminal penalties for people or organizations engaging in patterns of criminal activity. RICO is also used in complex white collar charges.

RICO predicate crimes

The crimes that lead to a RICO charge are called predicate crimes. The RICO statute has a comprehensive list, but a few of the common crimes are:

  • Money laundering
  • Embezzlement
  • Bribery
  • Fraud
  • Gambling
  • Extortion

Requirements for RICO

The RICO law was designed to combat organized crime and curb racketeering. The government needs sufficient proof to charge an enterprise with a RICO violation. They must prove that members of an enterprise engaged in activities constituting a pattern of racketeering that had an impact on interstate or foreign commerce.

A pattern consists of two RICO crimes committed within a ten year period. The crimes must be related to an ongoing illegal scheme. Almost any economic activity of substance meets the commerce criteria. However, the government often struggles to prove the existence of an enterprise and the defendant’s association with the enterprise. Enterprises with legal and illegal purposes are liable for RICO charges for ostensibly routine business transactions.

RICO Act penalties

RICO defenses change depending on the violation. Charges are used sparingly so as not to intrude on state laws. RICO convictions carry longer prison sentences that the underlying crimes that led to the charge. Also, judges can order defendants in RICO civil suits to pay damages of up to three times the actual damages. Those charged with a RICO offense should seek legal counsel as soon as possible. An experienced attorney will work to contradict the charges and negotiate a favorable outcome.

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