Under the federal RICO statute, an individual who is a known member of an enterprise that has committed any two of the 35 crimes–27 federal crimes and 8 state crimes–within a 10 year period may be charged with racketeering. Those who are found guilty of racketeering may be fined up to $25,000 and sentenced to 20 years in prison per racketeering count. Additionally, the racketeer must forfeit all ill-gotten gains and interest in any business gained through a pattern of “racketeering activity.” RICO also permits a private individual harmed by the actions of such an enterprise to legally file a civil action suit; if successful, the person can collect any and all treble damages (damages in triple the amount of actual/compensatory damages).
When a U.S. Attorney decides to indict someone under the RICO statute, they have an option of seeking a pre-trial restraining order or injunction pursuant to F.R.C.P. 65 to temporarily seize a defedant’s assets and prevent the transfer of potentially forfeitable property, as well as require the defendants to put up a performance legal bond. This provision was placed in the law because the owners of Mafia-related shell corporations often absconded with the assets. An injunction and/or performance bond ensures that there are some things that can be seized in the event of a guilty verdict.
In many cases, the threat of a RICO indictment can force a defendant or another RICO party to plead guilty to lesser charges, in part because the seizure of assets would make it difficult to pay a defense attorney. Despite its harsh provisions, a RICO-related charge is considered easy to prove in court, as it may focus on patterns of behavior as opposed to the alleged criminal acts.
There are also provisions for private parties to sue. A “person damaged in his business or property” may sue one or more “racketeers”. The plaintiff must prove the existence of an “enterprise”. The defendants are not the enterprise; in other words, the defendants and the enterprise are not one and the same. There must be one of four specified relationships between all defendants and the enterprise: Either the defendants invested the proceeds of the pattern of racketeering activity into the enterprise; or the defendants invested the proceeds of the control over, the enterprise through the pattern of racketeering activity; or the defendants conducted or participated in the affairs of the enterprise “through” the pattern of racketeering activity; or the defendants conspired to do one of the above. In essence, the enterprise is the illegal device of the racketeers. A civil RICO action, like many lawsuits based on federal law, can be filed in state or federal court.
Both the federal and civil components allow the recovery of treble damages. This allows the leaders of the syndicate to be tried and also allows any of the others that were ordered to do or assist them, closing a perceived loophole that allowed someone who told a man to, for example, murder, to be exempt from trial because he did not actually do it.
RICO has been speculated to come from the name and acronym were selected in a sly reference to the movie Little Caesar, which featured a notorious gangster named RICO. The original drafter of the bill, G. Robert Blakely, refused to confirm or deny this fact. G. Robert Blakely remains an expert on RICO; his former student Michael Goldsmith also gained a reputation as one of the nation’s leading RICO experts.
Although its primary intent was to deal with organized crime, Blakely said that Congress never intended it to merely apply to the Mob. He once told Time, “We don’t want one set of rules for people whose collars are blue or whose names end in vowels, and another set for those whose collars are white and have IVY LEAGUE DIPLOMAS.
Under the law, the meaning of Racketeering Activity is set out at 18 U.S.C. 1961 (http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/18/1961.html). The law includes:
- Any violation of state statutes against gambling, murder, kidnapping, extortion, arson, robbery, bribery, dealing in obscene matters, or dealing in a controlled substance or listed chemical (as defined under the Controlled Substance Act);
- Any act of bribery, counterfeiting, theft, embezzlement, fraud, dealing in obscene matters, obstruction of justice, slavery, racketeering, gambling, money laundering, commission of murder-for-hire, and many other offenses covered under the Federal criminal code (Title 18);
- Embezzlement of union funds;
- Bankruptcy fraud or securities fraud;
- Drug trafficking, long-term and elaborate drug networks can also be prosecuted using the Continuing Criminal Enterprise Statute;
- Criminal copyright infringement;
- Money laundering and related offenses;
- Bringing in, aiding or assisting aliens in illegally entering the country (if the action was for financial gain);
- Acts of terrorism
Patterns of racketeering activity–requires at least two acts of racketeering activity, one of which occurred after the effective date of this chapter and the last of which occurred within ten years (excluding any period of imprisonment) after the commission of a prior act of racketeering activity. The U.S. Supreme Court has instructed federal courts to follow the continuity-plus-relationship test in order to determine whether the facts of a specific case file gave rise to an established pattern. Predicate acts are related if they “have the same or similar purposes, results, participants, victims, or methods or commission, or otherwise are interrelated by distinguishing characteristics and are not isolated events.” (H.J. Inc. v. Northwestern Bell Telephone Co.) Continuity is both a closed and open ended concept, referring to either a closed period of conduct, or to past conduct that by its nature projects into the future with a threat of repetition.
Application of RICO laws
Although some of the RICO predicate acts are extortion and blackmail, one of the most successful applications of the RICO laws has been the ability to indict or sanction individuals for their behavior and actions committed against witnesses and victims in alleged retaliation or retribution for cooperating with federal law enforcement or intelligence agencies.
Violations of the RICO laws can be alleged in civil lawsuit cases or for criminal charges. In these instances, charges can be brought against individuals or corporations in retaliation for said individuals or corporations working with law enforcement. Further, charges can also be brought against these individuals or corporations who have sued or filed criminal charges against any of the defendants.
ANTI-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) laws can be applied in an attempt to curb alleged abuses of the legal system by individuals or corporations who utilize the courts as a weapon to retaliate against whistle-blowers, victims, or to silence another’s speech. RICO could be alleged if it can be shown that lawyers and/or their clients conspired and collaborated to concoct fictitious legal complaints solely in retribution and retaliation for themselves having been brought before the courts.
Although the RICO laws may cover drug traffickers crimes in addition to other more traditional RICO predicate acts such as extortion, blackmail, and racketeering, large-scale and organized drug networks are now commonly prosecuted under the Continuing Criminal Enterprise Statute, also known as the “Kingpin Statute”. The CCE laws target only traffickers who are responsible for long-term and elaborate conspiracies; whereas the RICO laws covers a variety of organized criminal behaviors.
Some famous cases would be Frank Tieri, Michael Conahand and Mark Ciavarella, and a new one with a Boston Church Official. http://www.wtvq.com/news/national/story/Boston-church-official.
If you are interested, you may check them out. They are interesting and it shows just how low someone will go to get that almighty dollar!