RICO: Organized Crime Doesn’t Pay
Many people associate RICO laws with high-profile legal cases involving “the mob”. This is due in part to the use of RICO penalties to prosecute organized criminal enterprises.
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, was created in 1970 to bring criminals associated with the Mafia to justice. Rather than targeting specific crimes committed by individuals, the RICO Act focuses on bringing down large-scale criminal enterprises that engage in crimes like murder, extortion and money laundering.
What Are RICO Crimes?
When the RICO Act was first introduced, it was designed to take organized crime syndicates out of commission by penalizing the types of crimes that these organizations frequently engage in.
These syndicates operate by coordinating different illegal activities with the aim of creating profits for the organization. One of the most common crimes of this type is known as “racketeering.”
A “racket” is a type of malicious fraud. Essentially, a racket works by offering to provide a solution to a problem that has been created specifically to extort money or services.
A famous example is the protection racket. This fraud involves criminals demanding payment from a business owner in order to “protect” the business from harm. If the business owner doesn’t pay up, the criminals will damage the business or harm the owner.
When a large-scale organization engages in organized racketeering over a period of time, the organization may face prosecution under the RICO Act.
RICO Act Penalties
In order to charge a group with RICO crimes, several elements must be established about the case. First, law enforcement and the courts must be able to demonstrate that the alleged perpetrator of RICO violations is a group that has formed an association to achieve a common criminal purpose. The courts must also show that the group stayed together long enough to try to complete their illegal goals.
For example, if a Mafia organization pays enforcers to collect protection money and then uses that money to distribute drugs, that group may be liable for prosecution under RICO.
The next part of a RICO case requires proof that the criminal organization continued their activities in a systematic pattern. The RICO Act states that two or more racketeering crimes in a 10-year period constitutes a pattern. The Supreme Court has also ruled that repeated and related criminal activities over a period of time constitute a pattern.
For instance, crimes that target the same victims and use similar methods over a period of time constitute a pattern. Some penalties for RICO crimes include:
- 20 years or up to life in prison
- A fine of $250,000 or double the amount of money earned by the organization
- Additional fines to compensate the racketeering victims