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"RICO" ("Racketeering")

RICO is a federal law that's short for "Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act." RICO's punishes members of any organizations who engage in a pattern of illegal conduct, known as racketeering activity.  RICO is not limited to mob activity.  Rather, it extends to any business organization engaged in racketeering.  A violation of RICO carries decades in prison.  RICO is the prosecution’s wild card and one of the most serious federal charges routinely brought against individuals as co-defendants.


Under RICO, the government must prove:

  1. The existence of an “enterprise” affecting interstate commerce;

  2. That the Defendant was employed or associated with the enterprise;

  3. That the Defendant participated in the affairs of the enterprise; and

  4. That the Enterprise engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity which requires at least two racketeering acts.

Racketeering activity includes almost every serious crime from murder and kidnapping to activity involving drugs and obscene materials.


RICO broadens the universe of chargeable crimes and lengthens the statute of limitations.  It requires a racketeering act within the (typically) 5 year statute of limitations from which the prosecutor can work backwards 10 years to establish 1 or more prior racketeering acts and subsequently 10 yrs beyond that until the beginning of time.


Examples of racketeering acts that could lead to a RICO prosecution are:

  • Money laundering

  • Fraud 

  • Terrorism

  • Drug Trafficking

  • Bribery

  • Obstruction of Justice

  • Counterfeiting

  • Theft

  • Murder for Hire


Common Defenses to RICO are:

  • Illegal search

  • Unlawful investigation

  • Insufficiency of evidence

  • Unlawful activities alleged are disconnected and not part of a pattern


Penalties: RICO carries up to 20 years in federal prison.  In the event the underlying activity involves a crime that carries a life sentence (e.g.; murder), the court can impose a life sentence.

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