The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly known as “RICO,” often conjures up mental images of the Godfather and Mafia related bribery; however, RICO is just as often used to prosecute CEOs or police organizations operating as criminal enterprises. In fact, in 2002, even the Major League Baseball Association was the defendant in a RICO suit. It is often dramatically portrayed in legal television shows such as Law and Order and Better Call Saul.
RICO is a U.S. federal statute which provides criminal and civil penalties for racketeering activity. Liability under RICO requires that a person be involved in an enterprise that operates through a pattern of racketeering activity.
The term “enterprise” refers to any group with members who are associated in a relationship in order to achieve a common purpose. In order to constitute a criminal enterprise, the group must be an ongoing organization that functions as one unit, have a common purpose, and exist separate and apart from each individual members’ criminal activity.
A “pattern” of activity requires, at a minimum, two racketeering acts within a ten year time-span. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that these two activities must be related and continuous. Relatedness can be established if the crimes are similar in their characteristics, such as having similar methods of conducting the activities.
Finally, the term “racketeering activity” includes, bribery, theft, murder, fraud, embezzlement, any violation of state laws regarding dealing in a controlled substance, and any violation of the federal drug trafficking laws.
RICO also provides civil remedies for private parties who are harmed by the alleged racketeering activity. The burden of proof in a civil RICO matter is more easily overcome than in criminal RICO matters. In a civil RICO case, a “preponderance of the evidence” standard applies which means that a jury must find that it is more likely than not that the alleged racketeering activity did occur.
The consequences of a RICO prosecution are severe and can include incarceration, treble damages and forfeiture of assets. If you or someone you know has been names as a defendant in a RICO matter, contact the Law Office of Michael F. Niznik at 215-914-5791 today.