1. What Is Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) Law?
2. What Are the Penalties Provided by RICO Law?
3. How Are RICO Charges Proven?

What does RICO stand for in law? RICO law, or Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act law, is a law in place to fight against organized crime within the United States.

What Is Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) Law?

The RICO Act was enacted in 1970. Under RICO law, racketeering activities can to be prosecuted with civil penalties when they are practiced by a criminal organization. Offenses defined as racketeering when committed within an organization include:

  • Murder
  • Gambling
  • Kidnapping
  • Dealing drugs
  • Mail fraud
  • Bribery
  • Wire fraud
  • Arson

Most of the 35 offenses considered as types of racketeering are also criminal offenses in their own right. Racketeering becomes a part of the offense when it's committed as an organized crime. The following activities are considered organized crime:

  • Illegal action that three or more individuals commit.
  • Illegal action that a group of people commits.
  • Illegal action committed to profit a specific group.

RICO law does not apply to the punishment for a criminal act that is isolated from a group. Groups of individuals who have formed a pattern of illegal activities and a criminal organization should be punished under the harsh consequences of RICO law. This pattern of illegal activity has to include two or more illegal acts committed within 10 years of each other that fall into the racketeering category according to the definition included in the RICO Act.

This well-known act has been instrumental in the prosecutions of mafia members and members of other organized crime groups like Hells Angels. Recently, the RICO act has been used more in cases against many different types of enterprises that are both illegally and legally operating.

What Are the Penalties Provided by RICO Law?

Before the RICO Act was passed, mob bosses were very difficult to try and convict because they frequently did not commit illegal acts themselves. Under RICO law, a person can be convicted of a crime because they ordered another person to commit that crime. RICO law allows for criminal and civil cases, so a claim can be brought against another by the government or an individual.

Violations of RICO law can be punished as severely as a 20-year prison sentence and can even be turned into a life sentence if the underlying crime authorizes that. Convicted criminals will also be required to pay a $250,000 fine or twice as much as they profited from the illegal activity.

In order to help the government continue to dismantle criminal organizations, a convicted criminal under RICO law must also forfeit all of their interest in the enterprise to the government. This hurts the criminal organization and gives the government more information on the enterprise. This forfeiture doesn't wait for a guilty verdict, because the property might become too hard to find after that point. A defendant in a RICO prosecution will have their personal assets frozen before the trial even begins.

How Are RICO Charges Proven?

In the case of a criminal tried under RICO law, the defendant must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by the jury in order to be convicted of the crime. This is also called the highest burden of proof within the United States court system.

The prosecution has to show that the defendant engaged in illegal acts while knowing that they were doing so on behalf of or for the profit of a criminal organization. They need to prove that the defendant's goals in the crime line up with those of the organization. Sometimes, the defense will argue that the defendant was unaware of their involvement with a crime group or was tricked or coerced into working with the group. The defense might also try to show that the defendant only committed minor offenses.

Civil cases tried under RICO law have a slightly lower burden of proof. This helps prevent criminal organizations from victimizing private parties. The jury in a RICO civil case have to decide that it is somewhat likely that the racketeering activities took place according to the allegations. Even though these types of cases offer a lower burden of proof, they are still quite expensive and difficult to pursue for a private individual.

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