In the United States, there are strict laws in place that are intended to deter involvement with organized crime or known criminal organizations. One of the most important of these laws is the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, a federal law that provides for enhanced criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for criminal acts conducted as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise.
RICO laws are meant to punish involvement with organized crime and violations of these laws are penalized severely by the federal government, resulting in a term of imprisonment of up to 20 years or possibly even for life. Finding an experienced federal criminal defense attorney to represent your RICO case is essential if you want to protect your rights and your future.
Our defense lawyers at Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers have decades of experience defending the rights and best interests of the criminally accused and we can make your experience with the federal criminal justice system as smooth and stress-free as possible. Contact our legal team today to schedule a free initial consultation.
What is the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act?
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act – the RICO Act for short – has been around for 50 years. It was passed in 1970 as part of an effort to combat the increasing threat of organized crime in the United States, and it contains provisions for criminal prosecution and civil penalties for racketeering activity associated with criminal organizations.
The Department of Justice states the purpose of the RICO statute as “the elimination of the infiltration of organized crime and racketeering into legitimate organizations operating in interstate commerce.”
Today, the same law that allowed the federal government to systematically dismantle crime syndicates like the mafia gives the government the authority to take down street gangs, drug cartels, motorcycle gangs, corrupt police departments, political parties and other types of enterprises suspected of engaging in a pattern of criminal activity, whether the enterprise is legal or illegal.
What Does that Mean?
One of the most important things to note about the federal RICO statute is that the law is broad. So broad, in fact, that there are 35 offenses that can qualify as racketeering activity if carried out in connection with an enterprise engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce.
In order for alleged criminal activity to trigger RICO charges, the activity must consist of two or more qualifying crimes committed within a period of 10 years and the violations must be related in some way. Rather than focusing on the individual criminal acts, RICO charges depend on the ability to prove a “pattern” of behavior that amounts to or poses a threat of continued criminal activity, which may make the RICO case easier for the government to prove.
In addition to overt acts, the federal RICO statute also makes it a crime for any person to conspire to violate any of the subsections of 18 U.S. Code § 1962, which means you could face federal conspiracy charges if you are accused of agreeing or conspiring to participate in the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity, even if you did not know all the other conspirators or have full knowledge of all the details of the conspiracy.
A conspirator must simply agree to participate in two or more racketeering acts (which constitutes the crime of racketeering), know the general status of the conspiracy and know that the conspiracy extended beyond his or her individual role.
What Constitutes a RICO Violation?
Under 18 U.S. Code § 1962, it is against the law to (a) use racketeering funds to acquire an interest in, or invest in, any enterprise, (b) use racketeering activity to acquire an interest in any enterprise, (c) participate in racketeering activity, or (d) conspire to commit any of these acts. The RICO statute covers a wide range of criminal conduct that the government considers racketeering activity, including a number of non-violent, white-collar crimes. The following are just a few examples of the dozens of crimes that can result in RICO charges if performed as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise:
• Mail fraud
• Illegal gambling
• Witness tampering
Criminal and Civil Penalties for RICO Violations
A conviction in a RICO case carries a much longer term of imprisonment than many of the underlying crimes that can trigger RICO charges, which are known as predicate crimes. According to 18 U.S. Code § 1963, criminal defendants found guilty of violating the federal RICO statute face a potential penalty of imprisonment for a maximum of 20 years, or possibly even for life, if the maximum penalty for the predicate crime is life imprisonment.
The RICO statute also gives the government the authority to seize any assets, real property or personal property related to the alleged racketeering activity or unlawful debt collection, including those tied to legitimate businesses. In addition to the harsh criminal penalties you can face upon conviction for a RICO violation, there is also a civil component to the RICO statute that must not be overlooked. Under the law, anyone adversely affected by a RICO violation can bring a civil suit and, if they win, recover “treble” damages, or triple the amount of damages to be awarded by the court.
For instance, if you are found guilty of embezzling $1,000 as part of a pattern of racketeering activity associated with an enterprise that had an effect on interstate commerce, you could be ordered to pay $3,000 as compensation.
Federal RICO Prosecutions
Criminal defendants in federal cases have the same rights as those in state cases, one of the most important being the presumption of innocence. If you have been charged with a criminal offense, any criminal offense, you are legally presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, and in order for the prosecution to get a guilty verdict, they must be able to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In order to convict a defendant of racketeering under the RICO Act, the federal government must prove five essential elements:
(1) that an enterprise existed;
(2) that the defendant was associated with or employed by the enterprise;
(3) that the defendant engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity;
(4) that the enterprise’s actions affected interstate commerce; and
(5) that the defendant committed at least two acts of racketeering activity within 10 years of each other in order to further the criminal enterprise.
Possible RICO Defense Strategies
The main objective of your criminal defense attorney will be to prevent the prosecution from meeting its burden of proof by introducing evidence and testimony that raises reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors. In other words, showing that one or more of the essential elements of a RICO charge cannot be proven. The following are some legal defenses commonly used to challenge the prosecution’s case in federal RICO cases:
• A criminal enterprise did not exist
• The defendant was not associated with or employed by the enterprise
• There was not a pattern of racketeering activity (no predicate offenses occurred)
• Entrapment by federal agents
• Illegal search and seizure
How a Skilled Defense Attorney Can Help
The RICO statute is powerful and complex, and not every defense attorney is prepared to mount a strong defense against RICO charges. At Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers, our criminal defense lawyers have successfully represented clients charged with serious federal crimes, including those charged under the RICO Act, and we will use every resource at our disposal to help you get the best outcome possible in your case. We can help you respond to a federal inquiry or target letter, determine whether you are the focus of a RICO investigation, and develop the most effective defense strategy aimed at protecting your rights, getting the charges against you dismissed or minimizing the penalties that you face.
The federal government doesn’t mess around when it comes to drug crimes and RICO cases, and it is important to respond assertively as soon as you discover that you are under investigation for a federal offense, especially when the investigation involves allegations of illegal conduct related to organized crime.
Contact the Drug Crimes Defense Lawyers at Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers
RICO violations carry extremely stiff criminal penalties and severe financial repercussions that can have a substantial impact on your future, your freedom and your reputation and the federal government aggressively pursues these types of criminal charges in an effort to discourage continued criminal activity. If you are facing criminal prosecution under the federal RICO statute, you need a knowledgeable attorney on your side who understands the intricacies of federal RICO laws and can help you develop the strongest legal strategy based on your specific situation.
An experienced criminal defense lawyer will thoroughly investigate the circumstances of your arrest, sort through the evidence in order to devise a compelling defense and use the complex provisions of the RICO statute to your benefit. To learn more about how retaining the services of our top-rated criminal defense attorneys at Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers can benefit you in your RICO case, contact our firm today.