When the American Mafia was in its heyday, prosecutors were having difficulty keeping track of every separate crime allegedly perpetrated by associates of the many organized crime families scattered across the country. Each perpetrator would have to be tried for individual crimes, which hardly allowed the government to make a dent in the Mafia’s activities. So, a solution: Congress passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act in 1970. This law allowed prosecution of many different actors involved in an ongoing criminal enterprise that affects interstate or foreign commerce.
Since the law’s passage, the focus of RICO uses has shifted from the Mafia to other criminal enterprises. The definition of an “enterprise” in the context of the RICO Act has come to mean any group made up of even loosely associated individuals who come together for a common purpose.
For individuals to be tried on RICO offenses, they must be involved in at least two “predicate” offenses. There is a list of more than 30 predicate offenses, which covers many different manifestations of racketeering – bribery, mail fraud, embezzlement, money laundering, and a whole host of other white-collar crimes.
As part of a successful RICO case for the government, prosecutors must show that the two or more predicate crimes are at least somewhat related and constitute illegal actions. Additionally, it must be shown (beyond a reasonable doubt) that the enterprise in question affects interstate or foreign commerce.
The RICO Act provides for prison sentences of up to 20 years for anyone convicted under the law, along with penalties of up to $250,000 or double the amount of the income gained from the predicate offenses. The defendant’s assets that are suspected to have been gained from the racketeering activities are also forfeited to the government – sometimes before the trial for RICO violations even begins.
Since the federal RICO Act was passed, many states, including Florida, have enacted similar laws. One key difference between Florida and federal law here is that individuals convicted under Florida law may spend up to 30 years in prison.
The federal RICO Act has been used fairly broadly since its passage in 1970. Even individuals who are not directly involved in the commission of multiple racketeering crimes may find themselves implicated. If that situation describes you, you need to get in touch with Attorney Barry M. Wax as soon as possible to mount an aggressive and effective defense. Call the firm to begin with a free one-hour consultation.