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The broad scope of the RICO Act

| Jun 23, 2021 | Criminal Appeals |

“RICO” stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations. The RICO Act is a law that levies both criminal and civil liability on people who the courts convict of certain activities related to interstate commerce. 

But what is racketeering? According to CNN, the answer is not necessarily straightforward. 

A variety of crimes

Racketeering is essentially operating a business fraudulently or engaging in illegal schemes. However, in the RICO Act, it describes 35 different criminal offenses. The law includes arson, kidnapping and murder, which most people may not think of when they think of fraudulent business practices. However, when these violent offenses or any of the others on the list are in conjunction with illegal business schemes that affect interstate commerce, the courts may prosecute under the RICO Act. 

The elements of racketeering

A prosecutor must be able to prove five specific criteria to obtain a RICO conviction against the defendant: 

  • There was a criminal enterprise 
  • It affected interstate commerce 
  • The enterprise employed or associated with the defendant 
  • The defendant participated in a pattern of racketeering 
  • This included two or more acts of racketeering from the list of 35 within 10 years 

The original goal of the law was to fight organized crime, and the courts have convicted many prominent mafia members using it. The intentionally broad scope has allowed courts to prosecute what might be seemingly unrelated offenses, as well. 

Racketeering defense

Prosecutors have successfully used RICO to obtain convictions in high profile cases, from insider trading and cheating on college admissions to blocking access to an abortion clinic. While the criteria are broad, they also give room for a good defense strategy, whether it is the lack of an enterprise, lack of a pattern, lack of association or some other element that belies the prosecutor’s proof. 

One of the keys to building a successful defense is careful investigation and analysis of every aspect of the case. 

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