In 1970, Congress enacted the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act know as the RICO Act or simply RICO. At a time when large scale, violent organized crime had run rampant, the Act was intended to give the government a significant tool in prosecuting the individuals who ran the operations, but rarely directly participated in specific crimes. As time has passed, the RICO act has been used to prosecute huge groups of people involved in mob activity, street gangs, biker clubs and even some corporate organizations.
The white collar criminal defense attorneys at Breeding Olinzock Carter Crippen have successfully represented individuals and organizations charged with violations of RICO. Because of the complex nature of RICO, an experienced attorney is required to challenge every aspect of the crime charged.
Any person employed by or associated with any enterprise engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce, to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such enterprise’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity or collection of unlawful debt.
18 U.S.C. 1961 defines a “pattern of racketeering” as at least two racketeering acts where at least one of the acts happened after the RICO statute was passed and the last of which was committed within 10 years of the prior after the prior act. The 10 year time period excludes periods of incarceration. “Racketeering Activity” is defined by a list of 35 crimes – 27 federal crimes and 8 state crimes – that includes violent and non-violent crimes.
A person may also violate RICO through a conspiracy. 18 U.S.C. 1962(d) makes it a crime to violate RICO through conspiracy. Unlike a substantive violation of RICO, a conspiracy to commit RICO may not require proof that the person personally committed two racketeering acts. For example:
When defendant agrees to participate in conduct of enterprise’s affairs with object of violating substantive Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) provision, it is not necessary for defendant to agree to personally commit two predicate acts in order to establish required pattern of racketeering activity[.]
United States v. Gonzalez, 921 F.2d 1530 (11th Cir. 1991)
However, if a person engages in a “single objective conspiracy,” not the overarching RICO conspiracy, the requirement of proving a pattern of activity may only be met by specifically proving an agreement to commit two racketeering acts.
Additionally, double jeopardy does not apply in many instances even if an individual has been convicted and served a sentence for a crime that serves as a racketeering activity under a separate RICO indictment. This is especially true where a defendant’s prior conviction was the result of one of the eight enumerated state crimes that serve as racketeering activities. Some argument on this front was suggested recently in a case by the United States Supreme Court where the dissent stated:
The double jeopardy proscription is intended to shield individuals from the harassment of multiple prosecutions for the same misconduct. Green v. United States, 355 U. S. 184, 187 (1957). Current “separate sovereigns” doctrine hardly serves that objective. States and Nation are “kindred systems,” yet “parts of ONE WHOLE.” The Federalist No. 82, p. 245 (J. Hopkins ed., 2d ed. 1802) (reprint 2008). Within that whole is it not “an affront to human dignity,” Abbate v. United States, 359 U. S. 187, 203 (1959) (Black, J., dissenting), “inconsistent with the spirit of [our] Bill of Rights,” Developments in the Law-Criminal Conspiracy, 72 Harv. L. Rev. 920, 968 (1959), to try or punish a person twice for the same offense? Ordinarily, a final judgment in a criminal case, just as a final judgment in a civil case, should preclude renewal of the fray anyplace in the Nation.
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico v. Valle, 579 U.S. __ (2016).
Punishment for RICO violations can be severe. In many instances a sentence under RICO it is predicated on the guideline level for the underlying offense. Thus, if you are convicted of a RICO conspiracy involving murder the sentence can be extremely severe.
There are many arguments related to RICO that can and should be made in Court. It is important to seek the counsel of an attorney with experience in defending RICO prosecutions. The complexity, severity and sheer amount of work involved requires dedication and careful attention to detail.
Contact Breeding Olinzock Carter Crippen in Knoxville immediately if you are facing federal RICO charges. A strong defense can be the difference in the case.