What Charges Can Lead to a RICO Act Indictment?

What Charges Can Lead to a RICO Act Indictment

If you face an indictment under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970 (RICO), it’s safe to say you’re in turbulent legal waters. 

The RICO Act has established itself as the United States Department of Justice’s best weapon against organized criminal patterns. But how does the prosecution build these complex cases in the first place?

This guide will unpack RICO’s structure to reveal what activity can trigger serious charges. The experienced attorneys at Whalen Law Office field panicked RICO questions every week, so consider this your guide to understanding the broad reach of federal law.

Using RICO to Fight Against the Mob

Let’s start with why Congress crafted the RICO statute back in 1970. Rising public frustration over the mafia’s network of illegal operations led lawmakers to determine a more extensive solution was needed. Instead of pursuing an individual or small crime family, RICO allowed prosecutors to target entire organizations and affiliates.

This approach views racketeering acts as part of a chain. When organizations show a pattern of activity over time, RICO steps in with severe penalties. This applies to small street gangs, international corporations, and everything else.

The critical test focuses on the pattern of “racketeering activity.”

Defining Racketeering Activity and Patterns

Racketeering under RICO includes state and federal crimes like:

  • Bribery
  • Extortion
  • Money laundering
  • Fraud
  • Murder
  • Kidnapping
  • Drug trafficking

Showing that racketeering acts occurred isn’t enough, though. Prosecutors must prove the pattern – namely that these weren’t sporadic incidents. Successfully linking two or more offenses can demonstrate coordination and a threat of continued criminal activity.

RICO patterns frequently charge dozens of offenses committed by groups of defendants over several years. The federal prosecution aims to paint a complete picture of organized, embedded criminal misconduct.

Types of Enterprises that Face RICO Indictments

Given the framework of federal RICO statutes, prosecutors hold wide latitude for naming businesses and organizations in federal criminal indictments. Individuals, organizations, businesses, legal entities, or associations can face charges. Here are some prime targets:

Organized Crime Groups

Mafia families provide the classic example that inspired RICO. Prosecutors infamously cited RICO to convict top bosses for directing criminal empires. Today, international drug cartels and gangs are among the most common types of criminal enterprises prosecuted under federal law.

Corporate Entities and Executives

In the early 2000s, federal authorities rocked the business community by charging companies like Enron and Tyco with RICO violations. The law continues to influence corruption probes into corporate entities coordinating internal misconduct.

Other Associations

Prosecutors also deploy RICO against political groups, police forces, unions, and even religious organizations. Any collective, organized coordination that results in racketeering triggers risk.

Intimidating Criminal Penalties Under RICO

Beyond long prison terms, penalties under the RICO Act can include hefty financial fines and asset forfeitures for individuals and entities. 

The law allows federal prosecutors to seize assets tied to the racketeering activity, such as property, vehicles, and, in some cases, entire companies.

Prosecutors may also launch RICO charges solely to attack an alleged criminal’s illicit wealth. These financial blows are often more detrimental to criminal defendants than jail sentences. Because RICO pulls evidence from years or even decades, the indictments can also feel like a tidal wave as more and more charges are levied against RICO defendants.

Building a Strong RICO Case

Launching RICO prosecutions involves meticulous preparation against formidable lawyers like the criminal defense attorneys at Whalen Law Office. Prosecutors extensively investigate targets while looking for embedded organizational links between individuals and events.

RICO cases often take years of investigating patterns of layered activity before the prosecution can begin securing indictments. Prosecutors will then lean on the uncommon procedural rules allowed under RICO, such as relaxing typically strict evidence standards.

In short, RICO provides the legal equivalent of a missile against entrenched criminal organizations. However, successfully fighting against these attacks requires skillfully building an elaborate defense from volumes of evidence.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many racketeering acts are required for a RICO charge?

A federal racketeering charge under the RICO Act requires at least two predicate acts over ten years. However, federal prosecutors frequently allege far more than two acts when building a RICO case to show an extensive pattern of racketeering activity.

What are some examples of enterprises charged under RICO?

Examples of enterprises facing RICO indictments include organized crime groups like mafia families, street gangs, and drug cartels, as well as corporate entities, political organizations, police departments, unions, and even religious groups. Any entity coordinating racketeering activities risks charges.

What makes RICO charges so intimidating?

Beyond imposing long federal prison sentences, RICO allows aggressive asset forfeiture, enabling the government to seize assets connected to racketeering, like cash, property, vehicles, and even entire companies. These potential financial penalties often exceed the consequences of standard criminal charges.

Seeking Confident Legal Guidance Against RICO Charges

While we unpacked a lot of complexity here, the core lesson is clear: take action to seek experienced RICO representation. These indictments can flip a defendant’s life upside down through intimidating uncertainty. Contact a defense attorney immediately for trusted guidance if you’re facing a RICO investigation in Texas. 

Having successfully defended state and federal RICO charges for years, the Whalen Law Office in Frisco, TX, will carefully analyze your case exposure and chart a sound legal course for the future. Don’t grapple with prosecutors wielding RICO alone – contact their federal criminal defense lawyers today to schedule your national RICO case assessment.

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