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What Is Racketeering?

Racketeering refers to a broad category of crimes, most commonly extortion and fraud, in which there is a criminal pattern of behavior involving organized groups.

At the federal level, racketeering generally falls under the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act. The RICO Act was created and put into place, in 1970, in a response to the frustrations that organized crime families (particularly the Mafia) were evading serious penalties for operating their illegal businesses.

Examples of Racketeering

While there are at least 35 different types of racketeering from the perspective of the RICO Act, some of the more commonly encountered forms are: running a protection racket, engaging in cyber extortion, threatening blackmail, running a fencing or illicit resale racket, acts of kidnapping, etc.

A protection racket is perhaps the most iconic example of traditional racketeering, an offense where a member of a criminal organization threatens a business or individual unless the victim agrees to pay a so-called protection fee. This is a form of extortion, similar to many aspects of the category of racketeering.

Running illegal gambling, drugs or prostitution rings are also commonplace activities within the broader category of racketeering. Motorcycle gangs, crime families, corrupt corporations and even political parties can engage in racketeering to achieve their goals.

What Is Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering?

Under the RICO Act, conspiracy to commit racketeering (a charge of RICO conspiracy) is the mechanism by which prosecutors charge multiple members of an organized crime group in one action — undermining the strategy these organizations had previously used to protect their high-ranking members.

The elements necessary to push forward with a RICO conspiracy charge are as follows:

  • that two or more individuals conspired to — via an enterprise, business or organization — participate in a pattern of racketeering activity;
  • that the defendant was a member of that agreement;
  • and that the defendant joined the conspiracy with another member in the full knowledge that the enterprise’s affairs involved a pattern of racketeering activity.

A pattern of racketeering is defined by merely two acts or more as listed under the RICO Act.

Extortion vs. Racketeering

The primary difference between extortion and racketeering from a legal perspective is that extortion does not require the existence of an enterprise of two people or more (thus, organized crime) while racketeering does.

Penalty for Racketeering Charges

Under the federal RICO Act, if you are convicted of racketeering offenses, you could face up to 20 years in federal prison. Additional fines and restitution are also often attached to more severe sentences.

Many states (33 states, as well as U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico) have adopted their own RICO laws, with penalties largely matching or even exceeding federal penalties. Florida, for example, has a potential penalty of up to 30 years imprisonment in addition to a fine of up to $10,000.

However, the RICO Act also allows for civil, rather than criminal, action. The burden of proof in a civil case may be less than that required of a criminal case, but a civil RICO action still demands that criminal activity (enumerated within the Act) took place, that at least two enumerated criminal acts (a pattern, per the Act) took place in relationship with one another, and that the statute of limitations (four years from when the victim/plaintiff discovers their damages) hasn’t expired. A successful civil RICO suit can result in the plaintiff or victim receiving triple the damages claimed in the case from the defendant.

What Are the Crimes Included in Racketeering (RICO Act)?

The RICO Act includes examples of at least 35 crimes it holds up as emblematic of the crime of racketeering. Those offenses include but are not limited to: forgery, kidnapping, murder, money laundering, obstruction of justice, tax evasion, human trafficking, running prostitution and gambling rings, predatory lending (loan sharking), counterfeiting, mail/wire / financial institution fraud, health care or medical fraud, arson, gun-running and as mentioned earlier, running a protection racket.

Reasons You May Need a Racketeering Attorney

There are several ways in which your life may be impacted by a case of racketeering:

  • You may suspect you unknowingly engaged in racketeering and want to avoid prosecution
  • You have been arrested on a charge of racketeering or expect to be arrested
  • You have been victimized by racketeering and want to bring a civil suit for damages
  • You have been sued in civil court by someone accusing you of racketeering

Whether the situation involves criminal prosecution or civil action, racketeering is a serious charge. Racketeering is the organized commission of a pattern of crimes and the conspiracy to commit the crimes. By definition, racketeering concerns the conduct of a group of people and not merely the actions of one single individual.

How a Racketeering Attorney Can Help You

You may want to consult an attorney to ensure your individual interests are protected and your personal concerns are addressed.

A licensed attorney can:

  • Advise you on state and federal anti-racketeering laws
  • Make a case that you were victimized by racketeering and help you establish damages
  • Prevent law enforcement from seizing your bank accounts and personal property thought to be the fruit of an illegal enterprise
  • Challenge an indictment against you
  • Challenge the prosecutor’s or plaintiff’s assertion of the predicate crimes and conspiracy necessary to establish the crime of racketeering
  • Represent you as your defense counsel in a criminal case
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