The Hells Angels, the Latin Kings, the Gambino Crime Family, Major League Baseball, the LAPD, Donald Trump, and the Roman Catholic Church all have something in common. They have all been tried on RICO charges, each with varying degrees of prosecutorial success. What are RICO charges and what are their consequences? What should you do if you’ve been charged under the RICO Act?
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act is a United States federal law that provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization. Prior to the RICO Act, if you instructed someone to commit murder or any other crime, you wouldn’t be tried in connection with the crime because you didn’t actually commit it. The RICO Act closed this loophole in the law.
RICO was enacted on October 15, 1970. The original intent of the law was to prosecute those who were actively engaged in organized crime, such as the mafia. Today, its application is more widespread.
What do you have to do to be charged under the RICO statute?
There are 27 federal crimes and eight state crimes that comprise the basis of racketeering charges. If you commit two of those crimes within a ten year period of time, you can be charged under RICO.
Since 1972, 33 states have adopted state RICO laws to be able to prosecute similar conduct. California is one of those states. California racketeering laws are designed to punish any organized criminal activity, including arson, drug trafficking, embezzlement, fraud, money laundering, and murder, that is carried out for an enterprise’s financial gain.
What crimes fall under the RICO Act?
Any act of bribery, counterfeiting, theft, embezzlement, fraud, dealing in obscene matter, obstruction of justice, slavery, racketeering, gambling, money laundering, the commission of murder-for-hire, and many other offenses covered under the Federal criminal code (Title 18)
What are the potential penalties for RICO Law violations?
Violations of RICO statutes are punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Depending on penalties for the underlying crime, the sentence can be increased to life in prison, as well as a fine of either $250,000 or double the amount of the proceeds earned from the activity.
The government is allowed to freeze a defendant’s assets before the case even goes to trial. Then, following a conviction, the government is automatically given a forfeiture of all of the defendant’s interest in the organization. So, not only do defendants lose all their money and property that can be traced back to the criminal conduct, but the organization itself can be severely crippled.
RICO Meets Cybercrime
A 22-year-old small-time fraudster was a member of the cybercrime forum “Carder.su.” There he bought bank card data, fake identity documents and counterfeiting services. Then, in May 2009, he bought more counterfeit items on the forum, this time from an undercover FBI agent who had infiltrated Carder.su.
US prosecutors successfully argued that the Russian-run forum was equivalent to an organized crime ring. It was a hub for all sorts of cybercriminal shenanigans. There was even a vetting process for new members. The number of users was estimated to be between 5,500 and 7,900.
Camez was already serving a seven-year state term for fraud when the feds charged him again under RICO. The question wasn’t whether he was a criminal. He admitted that he was. The question was whether his activities were equivalent to the mafia. In 2013, the jury ruled that they were.
This case set a precedent that should concern many internet users operating on the fringes of legality, including file sharers and underground marketplaces.
Problems with the RICO Act
Many civil libertarians and legal scholars warn that the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (the RICO statute) is open to prosecutorial abuse. They worry that the language is so loosely drawn that even smalltime, white-collar defendants and public officials can get swept into the same mold as underworld hitmen.
Have you been charged with a RICO violation?
If you are charged under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, it is important that you have a knowledgeable defense team on your side. Premier Federal Criminal Defenders are experienced in helping clients work with the court to resolve the issue. Contact us for a free consultation today.