Racketeering (RICO Allegations)
The RICO statute was enacted in 1970 to give the federal government the means and tools necessary to combat organized crime. It is no coincidence that the mafia was essentially eradicated within three decades since RICO was passed. Most lawyers, scholars, and judges agree that the RICO act was very effective at reducing organized crime.
While the RICO statute was enacted to give the government the tools to combat the mafia, the government hasn’t stopped using it even though the mafia isn’t the threat it used to be. In today’s world, racketeering allegations are still made even when there is no hint of organized crime or drug activity.
The easiest way to think about the racketeering statute is to think about it in general terms about what the law is intended to combat. Organized crime was difficult to prosecute prior to 1970 because by its very nature, criminal syndicates acted as a multi-headed hydra. It was easy to see that a criminal enterprise was, as a whole, involved in illegal activity. However, it was difficult to prove that anyone in particular was behind the illegal actions. For example, the government knew that certain enterprises were responsible for narcotic distribution, gambling, prostitution, etc. They also knew that these enterprises were responsible for violent crime to protect these lucrative businesses. But despite this knowledge, it was difficult for the government to prove who was responsible for what. Further, it was almost impossible for the government to prove that a particular person was in charge of other people. This insulated the criminal organization as a whole because if the government couldn’t isolate the actors from the group, they couldn’t take down the group.
What the RICO act did was it basically made being a "gangster" punishable by up to 20 years in jail. This may sound overly simplistic, but think about how this law is different than other laws. Most laws prohibit certain activity and if the government can prove you engaged in the activity, you go to jail. For example, the law says you can’t murder anyone. If you government can prove you murdered someone, you go to jail. Here though, RICO says you can’t engage in "racketeering." What exactly is racketeering though? Whereas most laws target specific conduct, RICO targets behavior.
For a person to be convicted of racketeering, the federal government needs to prove that a person engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity that is connected to an illegal “enterprise.” The RICO statute includes 35 kinds of crimes and if the person commits two of them within the course of 10 years and those two acts are connected to the enterprise, then the person is guilty of racketeering and faces up to 20 years in federal prison as well as a hefty fine and forfeiture of any businesses associated with the illegal activity. For a full list of the 35 crimes, which are called "predicate acts," consult the RICO statute or speak to a criminal defense lawyer. Needless to say though, the kinds of crimes that the predicate acts include are the kinds of crimes commonly associated with gang activity. For example murder, promoting gambling, bribery, kidnapping are all on the list. So are different varieties of fraud.
So if you want to really understand the scope of the statute, this about this hypothetical situation. Suppose a person who runs a sports book for an organized crime family is charged with two separate counts of promoting gambling that are about 10 years apart. Those two crimes are relatively minor in most jurisdictions (in New York state, most promoting gambling allegations are misdemeanors punishable by no more than one year in jail- most of the time the sentence is non-incarceratory). The idea that a bookie would have to periodically be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor isn’t going to do much to end organized crime activity. But because of RICO, if the government can prove that his actions were in furtherance of an illegal enterprise, he can be convicted of racketeering. And because he may face up to 20 years in jail, he may want to cooperate with the authorities and tell them about all the illegal and violent things that he has seen. He may also tell them who was behind those things so he can avoid going to jail under this statute. Now the government has a star witness that can bring down mob bosses whereas before, all they had was a person accused of a low-level misdemeanor who couldn't care less about the occasional arrest when compared to the money he was making operating his sports book.
Racketeering charges are very serious and they must be met with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact John Buza for a free consultation immediately if you are accused of violating the federal government’s very serious RICO statute.