Federal Criminal Law – RICO (Racketeering)

In all of Federal Criminal Law, one of the toughest statutes is the one referred to as Racketeering(Title 18 §1962) is one of the most burdensome of all federal criminal laws, in that it operates more than anything to dramatically increase sentencing guidelines.

Clearly, the use of RICO can earn an individual a sentence of 20 years in prison (or for life if the violation is based on racketeering activity for which that maximum penalty is life in prison, even if the sentencing guidelines call for a much lower sentence – more about sentencing guidelines coming soon).

Any activity that results in any kind of interference (actual or theoretical) with interstate commerce by threats or violence, brings a potential prison sentence of up to 20 years under § 1962.

Participating in the operation of a business (even an orignally legal one) which is involved in some way in “interstate commerce,” that is, activities; taking over a legitimate business through racketeering (such as extortion, threats of violence, etc.); or conspiring to do any of these things.  (Stand by for information from Burdick Law, P.C. with definitions of conspiracy – a very troubling concept.)

Or just distributing or investing the proceeds of any unlawful activity (such as selling televisions in one state that were stolen in another state), or investing illegally earned money in stocks and bonds, results in the same enormous penalty if the government can prove the elements of racketeering.

When Congress enacted the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, many states started to follow with similar laws. In order to convict someone under RICO, it’s no longer necessary to prove the suspect personally committed any of the illegal activity. Instead, prosecutors only need to prove:

· The defendant owns and/or manages an organization which is operated illegally, the “enterprise,” in the jargon of the statute;

· The defendants engaged in at least two or more “predicate offenses” (which now includes pretty much all serious federal crimes) and . . . and which were connected to each other by a common scheme or plan, and committed within 10 years of each other.

Although RICO was initially created to prosecute infamous crime rings such as the “Mafia” and similar gangs of organized criminals, it was soon stretched to cover many other criminal activities. For example, RICO charges were brought against pro-life activists for illegally blocking the entrance to abortion clinics.

All in all, RICO is a very tough law, one which is being used more than it should if for no other reason than to ratchet up the potential sentencing a defendant faces, to thereby coerce him to plead guilty to something lesser.