Do you know RICO? You probably hear a lot about RICO in the news or you’ve seen it mentioned in movies or on TV. That’s because RICO is one of the more potent and all-encompassing federal criminal statutes that is used against individuals who are alleged to be involved in organized crime, securities fraud, and other pricey crimes. But, what exactly is RICO—besides the “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act?” Take a seat, class is now in session.
Despite being almost ubiquitous today, RICO is not actually that old of a law. It was created in 1970, and duly signed into law by President Nixon, as a means of pursuing the Mafia. It has since morphed into a criminal and civil giant of a statute that has been used to pursue such disparate groups as the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (1979), FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) in 2015, the Gambino Crime Family (2006), and the Latin Kings gang.
At its heart, RICO is a federal criminal statute under which an individual can be charged for crimes alleging that they ordered others to commit or which they assisted others to commit as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise. Enterprise is defined loosely and can be any partnership, association, legal entity and even just a loose association of individuals, like the Hells Angels, Lucchese crime family, or the Latin Kings gang. In this strange land, legal corporations and Mafia crime families can both be considered ‘enterprises.’
To be charged under the federal criminal RICO statute, the individual must have committed at least two related and continuous acts of racketeering – defined as state crimes such as murder, trafficking, arson, money laundering, extortion or over 100 serious federal crimes including mail fraud and extortion – within a 10-year period. Also, those acts must be related in one of several specific ways to the furthering of an enterprise. Given the wide latitude of predicating conditions, it’s not surprising that quite a few individuals involved in some sort of scheme are ensnared in its web. For example, in 2010, a former lawyer was convicted of RICO offenses for a ponzi scheme.
Penalties for federal RICO convictions are steep, again with a nod toward breaking up and permanently dismantling Mafia crime syndicates and more recently, gangs. The mere filing of RICO charges can start the ball of forfeiture rolling such that many defendants settle for lesser charges just to be able to ensure that their assets are not completely forfeited. Convictions can net 20 years per count, of course, depending on the federal sentencing guidelines along with hefty fines and the forfeiture of assets.. Four members of the Gambino crime family were sentenced to life terms each for their RICO convictions.
RICO is not just for criminals, however. The federal RICO statute contains a civil cause of action for violations as well, allowing those who are harmed by a RICO violation to sue. Civil plaintiffs seeking RICO actions face a high bar in proving standing, that is that they have the right to bring the suit in the first place. To show standing, they must prove that they suffered a direct personal injury from the RICO violations in order to proceed. However, once they traverse this hurdle, and assuming they can prove the RICO violations and damages, civil plaintiffs stand to recover treble damages – threefold the amount they lost due to the RICO violations committed by the defendant.
If you need assistance with a RICO claim, consider contacting the attorneys at Weisberg Kainen Mark to explore your options.