The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, more commonly known as RICO, is a federal statute passed by Congress in 1970. Its original purpose was to give federal investigators and prosecutors the power and authority they needed to combat organized crime.
FindLaw explains, however, that in the ensuing 53 years, RICO has expanded to include 35 separate crimes, such as the following:
- Murder for hire
- Money laundering
- Illegal gambling
In addition, crimes such as prostitution and kidnapping are likewise often prosecuted under the RICO statute.
To convict you of a RICO crime, the prosecution must prove five separate things: 1) the existence of a criminal enterprise; 2) your employment by or association with said enterprise; 3) at least two predicates, i.e., racketeering acts, committed by you and the enterprise within a 10-year period; 4) the racketeering acts evidencing a “pattern of racketeering activity; and 5) a consequent negative effect on interstate commerce.
The enterprise may or may not be a legitimate business. If legitimate, such as a corporation or partnership, it must also provide money laundering services or other illegal benefits to its owners. As for your association with the enterprise, it can be either explicit or extremely informal.
If you find yourself facing RICO charges, be sure to know exactly which crimes the prosecution alleges that you committed. Oftentimes they will bring multiple charges so as to “cover the waterfront.” In other words, if the jury acquits you of one or more charges, it may still convict you of others. Given that conviction of each crime carries a myriad of severe penalties, you could face life imprisonment and several $250,000 fines.