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What is the RICO Act?

On Behalf of | Sep 22, 2023 | Federal Crimes |

Forbes reported there were 213 RICO case prosecutions in 2018. The RICO Act is an important legal tool in the fight against organized crime.

RICO stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, and it is a federal law aimed at curbing criminal enterprises. Law enforcement may use it in various ways.

A weapon against organized crime

Imagine a criminal syndicate involved in a variety of illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, money laundering and extortion. The RICO Act tackles such complex criminal enterprises. It targets individuals and organizations involved in a pattern of racketeering activity.

Proving a RICO violation

To establish a RICO violation, the government must demonstrate two key elements: a pattern of racketeering activity and an association-in-fact enterprise. A pattern of racketeering activity involves at least two acts of racketeering within a ten-year period. These acts can encompass various offenses, from fraud and bribery to gambling and murder.

An association-in-fact enterprise refers to a group of individuals or entities working together for a common criminal purpose. This structure allows the government to hold all members of the enterprise accountable for the crimes any member commits, making it a formidable tool against organized crime networks.

Civil and criminal RICO actions

The RICO Act provides for both civil and criminal actions. In civil cases, victims can sue individuals or organizations for damages resulting from criminal activities. On the criminal side, a RICO conviction can result in severe penalties, including lengthy prison sentences and significant fines. The government can also seize assets gained through racketeering activities, crippling the financial resources of criminal organizations.

Controversies surrounding RICO

While the RICO Act has been instrumental in dismantling criminal enterprises, it has not been without controversy. Some argue that it can be overly broad and lead to unintended consequences, potentially ensnaring individuals who were only peripherally involved in criminal activities.

Nevertheless, courts have upheld the RICO Act’s constitutionality, and it continues to be a potent tool for prosecutors. The government has used it in cases ranging from organized crime families to corrupt corporate entities.