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RICO

What does RICO stand for?

RICO stands for "Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations."

What is the purpose of the RICO Act?

The RICO Act is a law "designed to attack organized criminal activity and preserve marketplace integrity by investigating, controlling, and prosecuting persons who participate or conspire to participate in racketeering." Black's Law Dictionary 1286 (8th ed. 2005).

What is racketeering as defined under the RICO Act?

Racketeering is understood in the RICO statutes as follows: a pattern of illegal activity carried out as part of an enterprise (such as but not limited to a crime syndicate) that is owned or controlled by those engaged in the illegal activity.

Under the RICO Act, is racketeering only limited to crimes such as bribery, extortion, fraud, and murder?

No. Racketeering as it is understood under the RICO Act now encompasses such crimes as mail fraud and securities fraud, which puts the RICO statutes squarely in the arena of white-collar crime.

The law defines "racketeering activity" as any act or threat involving:

  • Murder
  • Kidnapping
  • Gambling
  • Arson
  • Robbery
  • Bribery
  • Extortion
  • Dealing in obscene matter

A racketeering activity is also defined as any act that is indictable under any of a number of other areas of the criminal code. Here are a few examples:

  • Sports bribery
  • Embezzlement from pension and welfare funds
  • Transmission of gambling information
  • Reproduction of naturalization or citizenship papers
  • Obstruction of justice
  • The misuse of a passport
  • Criminal infringement of a copyright

So, just how does somebody violate one of the RICO statutes?

Under the RICO provisions of the United States Code, there are three different crimes someone can commit:

(1) It is a crime for anyone who has received money through racketeering activity or the collection of an unlawful to use or invest the money, in part or in whole, in the acquisition of any interest in an enterprise that affects interstate or foreign commerce.

(2) It is a crime to acquire or maintain any interest in or control of an enterprise affecting interstate commerce through a pattern of racketeering activity or through the collection of an unlawful debt.

(3) It is a crime for anyone employed by or associated with such an enterprise to conduct or participate in the affairs of the enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity or the collection of an unlawful debt.

Lastly, it is a crime for anyone to conspire to violate any provision of this code.

What are the possible punishments for violating one of the RICO statutes?

Violation can result in a fine, imprisonment up to 25 years, or both.

Life imprisonment is also a possibility when the violation involves a racketeering activity whose maximum penalty includes life imprisonment. Forfeiture to the government of any interest in a criminal enterprise can result as well.

Prosecutors are always adding RICO charges - why is that?

The broad nature of the RICO statutes allows them to be applied in very general, some might even say, creative ways. Furthermore, RICO statutes allow for not only criminal prosecution, but also civil lawsuits that allow the plaintiff to sue for treble damages.

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