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When watching mobster TV shows or movies, the term “RICO” may come up. Beginning in the early 70s, the federal government used RICO against those engaged in organized crime. It did, in fact, use this law against mobsters.

RICO, however, does not cover only the actions of mobsters and members of organized crime. It encompasses those activities that Congress deems as organized crime no matter who commits the offense.

The definition

RICO is the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations provision, which is part of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970. It involves both criminal and civil litigation. In 2018, civil suits filed under RICO topped criminal prosecutions, 1405 to 213.

RICO condemns any person who invests or conspires to invest in an enterprise that engages in activities that affect interstate or foreign commerce. Those activities may occur through the collection of an unlawful debt or the commission of various state or federal crimes.

The criminal act

Criminal operations may include state or federal crimes such as:

  • Illegal gambling
  • Prostitution rings
  • Drug trafficking
  • Counterfeiting
  • Embezzlement
  • Extortion

Other crimes involve murder, kidnapping, arson and bribery.

The guilty verdict

To find a person or entity guilty of violating RICO, the government must prove that:

  • An enterprise existed
  • The organization affected national or international business
  • The person charged was an associate or an employee of the enterprise
  • The defendant engaged in a pattern of racketeering

Racketeering is when a person or organization engages in a “racket.” The person creates a racket by establishing a legitimate entity to accomplish unlawful actions.

The consequences

The consequences of violating the RICO act is by fine or by imprisonment, not to exceed 20 years. However, a violation may include a life prison term if the racketeering action is from a prior offense that had a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

RICO also mandates forfeiture of all property and interest acquired through the criminal act. This includes any proceeds from the racketeering activity or unlawful debt collection.