The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, is a federal law designed to combat organized crime. A major component of this law is the legal ability to hold participants liable for the acts of others. In a typical organized crime scheme, lower-ranking members actually carry out the criminal acts, and prosecutors can have a hard time implicating the higher-ups who ordered the acts and made money from them.
Federal prosecutors may file RICO charges against various kinds of organized criminal activity. First, they must prove that the defendants participated in the criminal enterprise. An entity of any size can count as an organization, as long as it has a structure.
Prosecutors must show organized scheme
The criminal activity by the organization must also form part of a pattern of racketeering. This means a sustained criminal scheme, not a couple of random crimes by employees or bosses.
RICO enumerated crimes
Not all crimes qualify for RICO prosecution. The law lists specific types of crimes, including drug trafficking, murder, extortion and gambling. Mamy white-collar crimes can also give rise to RICO charges, including money laundering, bribery and securities fraud. The statute aims to cover the most common kinds of crimes that tend to contribute to an organized criminal scheme.
A conviction on RICO charges can result in extremely harsh criminal and civil penalties, including long prison terms, forfeiture of property and triple damages. Additionally, if your charges include RICO conspiracy, you can end up with a conviction even if you did not commit any of the listed crimes and be held responsible for the crimes of others.
For this reason, you need to shore up a strong legal defense from the very beginning. If you become aware that you or your company are the target of law enforcement investigation, you should retain an experienced defense attorney at once. Do not speak to investigators without your attorney present, even if they seem friendly. You should also not rely on corporate counsel, as the company’s interests and your own may diverge. Look for a qualified defender who will commit to protecting your rights.