The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act
(commonly referred to as RICO Act
) is a United States federal law
that provides for extended penalties for criminal acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization
. It also provides a civil cause of action for those injured by violations of the act. RICO was enacted by section 901(a) of the Organized Crime Control Act
of 1970 (). RICO is codified as Chapter 96 of Title 18 of the United States Code
, . It was intended to make it easier to prosecute organized crime
figures, but has been applied in several other cases as well.
It has been speculated that 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 Blakey, refused to confirm or deny this.
Under RICO, a person who is a member of an enterprise that has committed any two of 35 crimes—27 federal crimes and 8 state crimes—within a 10-year period can be charged with racketeering
. Those found guilty of racketeering can be fined up to $25,000 and/or sentenced to 20 years in prison per racketeering count. In addition, 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 file a civil suit; if successful, the individual can collect treble damages
When the U.S. Attorney decides to indict someone under RICO, he or she has the option of seeking a pre-trial restraining order or injunction to temporarily seize a defendant's assets and prevent the transfer of potentially forfeitable property, as well as require the defendant to put up a performance 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 is something to seize in the event of a guilty verdict.
In many cases, the threat of a RICO indictment can force defendants 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 focuses on patterns of behavior as opposed to criminal acts.
There is also a provision for private parties to sue. A "person damaged in his business or property" can sue one or more "racketeers." The plaintiff must prove the existence of a "criminal enterprise." The defendant(s) are not the enterprise; in other words, the defendant(s) and the enterprise are not one and the same. There must be one of four specified relationships between the defendant(s) and the enterprise. 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 for the recovery of treble damages (damages in triple the amount of actual/compensatory damages).
Although its primary intent was to deal with organized crime, Blakey 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, racketeering activity
- Any violation of state statutes against gambling, murder, kidnapping, arson, robbery, bribery, extortion, dealing in obscene matter, or dealing in a controlled substance or listed chemical (as defined in the Controlled Substances Act);
- Any act of bribery, counterfeiting, theft, embezzlement, fraud, dealing in obscene matter, obstruction of justice, slavery, racketeering, gambling, money laundering, commission of murder-for-hire, and several other offenses covered under the Federal criminal code (Title 18);
- Embezzlement of union funds;
- Bankruptcy or securities fraud;
- Drug trafficking;
- 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.
Pattern 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 give rise to an established pattern. Predicate acts are related if they "have the same or similar purposes, results, participants, victims, or methods of 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.
Where RICO laws might be applied
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 law enforcement or intelligence agencies.
Violations of the RICO laws can be alleged in cases where civil lawsuits or criminal charges are brought against individuals or corporations in retaliation for said individuals or corporations working with law enforcement, or against individuals or corporations who have sued or filed criminal charges against a defendant.
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.
Hells Angels Motorcycle Club
In 1979, the United States federal government went after Sonny Barger
and several members and associates of the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels
using RICO. In United States v. Barger
, the prosecution team attempted to demonstrate a pattern of behavior to convict Barger and other members of the club of RICO offenses related to guns and illegal drugs. The jury acquitted Barger on the RICO charges with a hung jury on the predicate acts: "There was no proof it was part of club policy, and as much as they tried, the government could not come up with any incriminating minutes from any of our meetings mentioning drugs and guns"..
On November 21
, Genovese crime family
boss Frank "Funzi" Tieri
was the first Mafia
boss to be convicted under the RICO Act.
Key West PD
In June 1984, the Key West Police Department
in Monroe County, FL
was declared a criminal Enterprise under the Federal
RICO statutes after a lengthy United States Department of Justice
investigation. Several high-ranking officers of the department, including Deputy Police Chief Raymond Cassamayor, were arrested on federal charges of running a protection racket
for illegal cocaine
smugglers. At trial
, a witness testified he routinely delivered bags of cocaine
to the Deputy Chief's office at City Hall.
On March 29, 1989, financier Michael Milken
was indicted on 98 counts of racketeering and fraud relating to an investigation into insider trading
and other offenses. Milken was accused of using a wide-ranging network of contacts to manipulate stock and bond prices. It was one of the first occasions that a RICO indictment was brought against an individual with no ties to organized crime. Milken pled guilty to six lesser offenses rather than face spending the rest of his life in prison.
On September 7, 1988, Milken's employer, Drexel Burnham Lambert, was also threatened with a RICO indictment under the legal doctrine that corporations are responsible for their employees' crimes. Drexel avoided RICO charges by pleading guilty to lesser felonies; a RICO indictment would have almost certainly put Drexel out of business since its capital would have been tied up in its defense, and banks will not extend credit to securities firms under RICO indictments.
Major League Baseball
In 2002, the former minority owners of the Montreal Expos
baseball team filed charges under the RICO Act against Major League Baseball
commissioner Bud Selig
and former Expos owner Jeffrey Loria
, claiming that Selig and Loria deliberately conspired to devalue
the team for personal benefit in preparation for a move. If found liable, Major League Baseball could have been found liable for up to $300 million in punitive damages
. The case lasted for two years, successfully stalling the Expos' move to Washington
or contraction during that time. It was eventually sent to arbitration
and settled for an undisclosed sum, permitting the move to Washington to take place.
Pro Life Activists
RICO laws were unsuccessfully cited in NOW v. Scheidler
, a suit in which certain parties sought damages and an injunction against pro life activists
who physically block access to abortion
On April 26 2006
the Supreme Court
heard Mohawk Industries, Inc.
v. Williams, which concerned what sort of corporations fell under the scope of RICO. Mohawk Industries had allegedly hired illegal aliens
, in violation of RICO. The court was asked to decide whether or not Mohawk Industries, along with recruiting agencies, constitutes an 'enterprise' that can be prosecuted under RICO, but in June of that year dismissed the case and remanded it to Court of Appeals.
On August 20, 2006 in Tampa, Florida
most of the state leadership members of the street gang
, the Latin Kings
, were arrested in connection with RICO conspiracy charges to engage in racketeering and currently await trial. The operation, called "Down Crown," targeted statewide leadership of the Latin Kings. The raid occurred at the Caribbean American Club. Along with Tampa sheriff’s deputies, agents with the Tampa PD, the State Attorney’s Office, the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were involved in the operation. Included in the arrest were Luis Hernandez, Celina Hernandez, Michael Rocca, Jessica Ramirez, Reinaldo Arroyo, Samual Alvarado, Omari Tolbert, Edwin DeLeon, and many others, totalling 39.
Gambino Crime Family
Also, in Tampa, on October 16, 2006, four members of the Gambino Crime Family
(Capo Ronald Trucchio
, Terry Scaglione, Steven Catallono and associate Kevin McMahon) were tried under RICO statutes, found guilty and sentenced to life in prison
Use in popular culture
In the 2008 movie The Dark Knight
, the story of a masked vigilante named Batman
and his crusade to bring down the criminal underbelly that plagues his city (Gotham), a RICO case is enacted. Gotham's District Attorney, Harvey Dent
, successfully arrests over 500 members of the Mob
, and has them all charged under the RICO act as part of a conspiracy