If you have never heard of RICO, this acronym stands for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a federal law passed by Congress in 1970 to give law enforcement officers and prosecutors the ammunition they needed to combat the allegedly rampant organized crime rings operating in the U.S.
As FindLaw explains, however, RICO has gone far beyond its original roots. Today, it applies to 35 separate criminal offenses, including the following:
- Illegal gambling
- Money laundering
- Murder for hire
While no one-size-fits-all definition exists for what constitutes racketeering, it must include the following three characteristics:
- A pattern of illegal activity
- The pattern occurring an organizational level
- The pattern affecting interstate commerce
To convict you of a RICO violation, the prosecutor must prove all four of the following:
- That a criminal enterprise existed with which you associated yourself, however loosely
- That you and the enterprise committed at least two predicates, i.e., acts of racketeering, within a 10-year period
- That you and the enterprise engaged in a “pattern of racketeering activity”
- That your racketeering affected interstate commerce
Keep in mind that the criminal enterprise may itself be a legitimate business, but one that also provides money laundering or other illegal services to its owners. In addition, the enterprise need not employ you outright. Any type of association you have with it will suffice.
Generally, you face numerous charges in a RICO prosecution. Not only will each charge carry its own penalties upon conviction, but the racketeering penalty is a $250,000 fine and a prison sentence of up to 25 years. If convicted of all charges, you could easily face life in prison.