Federal Racketeering (RICO) Defense Lawyer - 18 U.S.C. § 1961
RICO is a federal statute short for the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations. It's part of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970.
Before RICO, only the individual members of crime organizations who committed illegal could be arrested, indicted, and convicted.
This meant the members in positions of authority, who decided to commit the crimes, could not be prosecuted.
Now, federal prosecutors possess the authority to indict anyone who is part of the organization or who participates in a criminal enterprise with racketeering activity.
Racketeering is a federal crime under 18 U.S.C. § 1961 and is not just a single event. Instead, it usually appears in the environment of organized crime–gangs, gambling rings, mafia, etc.
Put simply, RICO allows members of criminal enterprises to be charged with racketeering. If members of the organization commit any of the listed federal and state crimes within ten years, the RICO Act applies.
Federal prosecutors initially used RICO as a powerful tool to fight organized crime groups that were committing broad illegal activities as a criminal enterprise.
The federal RICO Act is also commonly used to deal with a broader range of criminal activity committed by extortion and coercion.
The RICO Act primarily focused on racketeering activity to profit from organized illegal activity, such as group participation. It also allows prosecutors to pursue an indictment against businesses that engage in fraud and extortion.
Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will review the laws more closely below.
Elements of Federal Racketeering Offense
In the United States, it is illegal for anyone to be paid from a pattern of racketeering activity or collecting an unlawful debt and then using the money to invest in some operation that affects interstate or foreign commerce.
For a pattern of racketeering to exist, there must be at least 2 acts of racketeering activity within ten years of one another. A “racketeering activity” means any act or threat of action that involves:
- Blackmail and extortion,
- Dealing in obscene matters,
- Dealing in controlled substances or listed chemicals,
- Drug trafficking,
- Money laundering,
- Violent crimes,
- That is punishable for more than a year under state law.
Any action which is criminal under other sections of the U.S.C., including but not limited to the following:
- Wire fraud,
- Mail fraud,
- Bank fraud,
- Securities fraud,
- Theft from interstate shipping,
- Embezzlement from pension and welfare funds,
- Inflated credit transactions,
- Transmission of gambling information,
- Obstruction of justice, or
- Misuse of a passport;
Any act relating to dealing with restrictions on payments and loans to labor organizations or relating to embezzlement from union funds.
Any offense involving fraud connected with a case under title 11, fraud related to the sale of securities, and the felonious manufacture, importation, receiving, concealing, buying, selling, or dealing in a controlled substance or listed chemical.
Any action can be charged under the Currency and Foreign Transactions Reporting Act. If done for financial gain, any action can be punished under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Any punishable act under section 2332b of the U.S.C relates to acts of terrorism that transcend national borders.
And an “unlawful debt” means a debt acquired during gambling in violation of state or federal law and which was acquired in connection with the business of gambling or the business of lending money. Still, the value rate is at least twice the enforceable rate.
Federal Racketeering Conspiracy
Additionally, defendants may be charged with conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) even if they did not participate in the operation or management of the racketeering activities.
If they knew about the scheme and agreed to help facilitate it so that, when it was finished, it would violate RICO, they could be charged under this law.
What are the Penalties for Racketeering?
Federal racketeering convictions come with a maximum 20-year sentence or a life sentence if the racketeering activity has a maximum penalty that includes it or both.
And the defendant will be forced to surrender to the United States government:
- Any interest they have acquired or maintained with the proceeds from racketeering activity or unlawful debt;
- Any interest in, security of, claim against, or property or contractual right over any business or operation that was established, controlled, or conducted with the proceeds from racketeering activity or unlawful debt;
- Any property derived from the proceeds obtained from racketeering activity or unlawful debt collection.
Simply put, if convicted under the RICO Act, you will be facing asset forfeiture, meaning the government can seize money or property connected to the racketeering activity.
However, the prosecutor has to prove you earned money or property from the illegal activity, used it to commit the crime, or bought the property with cash gained from the criminal activity.
It should also be noted that if a defendant is simultaneously charged with more than one type of underlying racketeering activity, courts may treat each offense as a separate conviction.
This would potentially increase the penalty. Also, the penalty could increase depending on the defendant's role in the offense.
For instance, if they were the organizer or leader, their punishment would be harsher than minor actors.
Defenses to Federal Racketeering Charges
For the prosecution to win their case, they must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of all the elements of the crime of racketeering, including:
- The existence of a criminal enterprise that affected commerce,
- That the defendant was connected with the enterprise,
- That defendant engaged in racketeering activity
- Defendant participated in a pattern of racketeering by committing at least two criminal acts
The main factor in a RICO case is a “pattern” of criminal activity. There must be at least two acts of racketeering activity through the criminal enterprise within ten years for the RICO statute to apply.
Readers should note that federal RICO cases are investigated by the most experienced federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors.
This means the defense of RICO charges requires a highly experienced federal criminal defense lawyer. There are many common defenses against RICO, but we must first closely review the details of the case.
Common defenses to federal racketeering charges include:
- You didn't conspire to commit the crimes,
- Your acts were not criminal,
- Mistaken identity,
- Proving there is no pattern of racketeering activity
- Showing the criminal organization directed the criminal activity,
- You didn't knowingly act with the intent to participate in criminal activity,
- If multiple defendants are charged with federal racketeering, showing they are not a criminal enterprise but instead are a loose association of individuals.
We might also be able to argue you weren't acting on behalf of a criminal enterprise or the evidence being used against you was obtained through an illegal search and seizure.
If the prosecution cannot show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a criminal enterprise ordered or directed illegal activity, federal racketeering charges cannot apply to the case at hand.
If you are under investigation, or already indicted for federal RICO charges, early intervention by our law firm can be crucial to the case's outcome.
Negotiating with the federal prosecutor might be possible for a favorable outcome, but acting quickly is critical r defense.
Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles County, and we serve people in California and throughout the United States.
You can contact us for an initial consultation at (310) 328-3776 or fill out our contact form.