When most people hear the term “racketeering,” they picture a character played by Robert De Niro or Joe Pesci in a mob movie. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act of 1970 indeed was designed to target organized crime, which has been involved in gambling, prostitution, bootlegging and protection “rackets” over the years.
The RICO Act, however, goes far beyond that. It encompasses some 35 different federal offenses, including bribery, extortion, kidnapping, arson and murder.
What is required for a racketeering charge?
Crimes prosecuted under the RICO Act must involve a pattern of illegal activity rather than a single criminal act. According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), a criminal enterprise must somehow impact interstate commerce for it to be considered racketeering. Anyone charged under the RICO Act must have participated in at least two criminal acts in the enterprise.
The potential penalties for a racketeering conviction are significant. The minimum sentence is 2.5 years. Those convicted of racketeering may face fines of as much as $25,000.
What kind of activities can fall under the racketeering umbrella?
The RICO Act has been used to prosecute people in such diverse activities as blocking access to clinics that perform abortions, insider trading and last year’s college admissions scandal. That case ensnared college coaches and administrators as well as some wealthy and famous people who broke the rules (and the law) to get kids into the college of their (or their parents’) dreams.
If you are being investigated for criminal offenses involving racketeering or have already been arrested, it’s essential to seek experienced legal guidance as soon as possible to help protect your rights, your reputation and your future.