Racketeering (RICO)

Racketeering is defined as operation of an ongoing illegal enterprise. Despite its origins in targeting mafia bosses during the 1970s, the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act is now primarily used in criminal cases against alleged gang members, corrupt government officials and shady businesses.

Miami racketeering defense lawyers at Jacobs Keeley are equipped to handle the complexity of these cases, with full understanding of the enormous consequences defendants face.

RICO cases must establish a pattern of racketeering activity, and are often associated with other serious crimes, such as:

  • Bribery
  • Gambling
  • Extortion
  • Embezzlement
  • Drug Dealing
  • Arson
  • Mail and wire fraud
  • Kidnapping
  • Prostitution
  • Money laundering
  • Homicide
  • Obstruction of Justice

As opposed to focusing on a single act, RICO seeks to impose serious penalties for those who engage in a pattern of wrongdoing as a member or leader of a criminal enterprise. In fact, there must be at least two connected acts of racketeering activity within 10 years to secure a conviction.

A person found guilty of racketeering faces up to 20 years in prison per count.

Racketeering cases are also ripe for forfeiture actions, with a conviction resulting in granting the government automatic authority to seize all of a defendant’s interest in the organization. The goal is to cripple the organization. It’s important to note prosecutors often request a freeze on a defendant’s assets long before trial.

Depending on the facts, a racketeering case may be handled at either the state or federal level. Federally, RICO is codified in 18 U.S.C. 1961-1968, while Florida Statute 895.03 contains state law regarding racketeering and illegal debts.

Defendants in racketeering cases must steel themselves for a grueling process. The best protection is an experienced criminal defense firm.

Prosecuting RICO Claims

RICO was passed in 1970, with the goal of going after the mafia by tying all crimes together in a single case, thereby allowing prosecutors to effectively prosecute the bosses behind these crimes.

But the mafia era passed, and the statute began its evolution. Today, it’s primarily focused on business sector activities, most commonly against companies accused of committing some form of fraud over an extended period of time.

In order to prove a RICO claim, prosecutors have to prove the following four elements:

  • Conduct. This simply means a defendant participated in the enterprise and carried out the direction of the enterprise.
  • Enterprise. This is defined to include any individual, partnership, corporation, group or other entity. It must be an “ascertainable structure distinct from the conduct of a pattern of racketeering.” In other words, the organization must exist even without the illegal conduct. The law allows for consideration of both legitimate and illegitimate organizations.
  • Pattern. At least two acts of racketeering activity. Simply showing multiple acts is not enough, though. Per the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case of H.J., Inc. v. Northwestern Bell Te. Co., there must be some degree of continuity to the action, whether closed (over an extended period of time) or open-ended (the future threat of repetition).
  • Racketeering Activity. This element is broad, as the federal statute includes 35 crimes – both federal and state-level – that may be considered “racketeering activity.” In fact, it is impossible to be found guilty of racketeering and not be found guilty of another criminal charge.

It should be noted there are also civil RICO cases, for which plaintiffs can seek treble (triple) damages from defendants. The burden of proof in civil litigation is less onerous than in criminal cases (a preponderance of the evidence versus beyond a reasonable doubt), and compensatory and punitive damage damages may be substantial.

Civil actions involving RICO carry a four-year statute of limitations. If subsequent violations occur after that four-year window, they will not revive the cause of action for previous violations.

In criminal court, RICO charges can be brought so long as the underlying offense is still chargeable. So for example, there would be no statute of limitations where the underlying offense is homicide. However, most other cases would have to be brought within one to four years.

While the government is required to overcome major hurdles in order to obtain a conviction, it’s essential for defendants in racketeering cases to hire an experienced defense team.

Contact the Miami Racketeering Defense Lawyers at Jacobs Keeley Trial Lawyers for a confidential appointment to discuss your rights.

Call us at (305) 358-7991.

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