Criminal Law

Defending Against Racketeering Charges

Racketeering involves a pattern of criminal activity carried out by a criminal enterprise. Racketeering can be a federal crime or crime under state law. Gang activity can lead to racketeering charges, leaving individuals charged with criminal offenses that were committed by other members of the group. The penalties for racketeering can include extensive jail time or even life in prison.

If you are facing federal or state racketeering charges, there is the possibility that you could go to jail for something someone else did. It is essential to talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer for help as soon as possible.

Federal Racketeering Laws

Racketeering laws were created to target the Mafia and other organized criminal groups. In 1970, Congress passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO Act), making it a crime to participate in a criminal enterprise. Before RICO, prosecutors had a difficult time prosecuting Mafia bosses and other organized crime leaders. RICO made it possible to charge an individual involved in a criminal enterprise with the crimes of the group. This made it easier for prosecutors to go after any and all members of a criminal operation.

Racketeering charges generally require proving there was a pattern of criminal activity. Under RICO, a defendant must have committed at least two acts of racketeering activity within a 10-year period, where the acts are related to a criminal enterprise. This may involve the supplying of illegal goods or services like drugs, prostitution, gambling, or loan sharking. It may also involve participating in illegal activities for profit, such as insurance fraud, arson, vehicle theft, securities fraud, or forgery.

The penalties for a racketeering violation depend on the type of criminal activity involved. Under federal RICO laws, individuals may face up to 20 years in prison for each criminal charge. If convicted of multiple offenses, an individual may face life in prison.

What Is a Criminal Enterprise?

For an individual to be charged under racketeering laws, they must be involved in a criminal enterprise. An enterprise includes, "any individual, partnership, corporation, association, or other legal entity, and any union group of individuals associated in fact although not a legal entity."

Initially, RICO laws were aimed at the Mafia and other organized criminal groups. Since RICO, the laws have been used to prosecute many groups, including street gangs, corporations, drug cartels, motorcycle gangs, and even police departments.

Gang Activity

Some street gangs have been considered "criminal enterprises" under federal or state racketeering laws. Criminal street gang activity may involve drug trafficking, human trafficking, prostitution, money laundering, loan-sharking, blackmail, motor vehicle theft rings, obstruction of justice, or extortion. Individuals involved in these types of criminal activities may be charged with state or federal crimes. Also, any property related to the criminal enterprise may be seized by the state.

Pattern of Racketeering Activity

A pattern of racketeering activity involves at least two RICO predicate offenses within a 10-year period. Racketeering activity may include acts or threats involving:

  • Murder
  • Kidnapping
  • Gambling
  • Robbery
  • Bribery
  • Extortion
  • Dealing and distributing drugs
  • Counterfeiting
  • Embezzlement
  • Witness tampering
  • Human trafficking
  • Money laundering

State RICO Laws

Most states have laws that are similar to federal RICO statutes, known as "Little RICO" laws. These state laws make criminal profiteering a crime, much like what is outlined above. State RICO laws may be broader than federal statutes but are generally very similar.

Criminal Penalties

The penalties for a racketeering conviction depend on the underlying criminal activity. If you're facing racketeering charges, you could also face a number of misdemeanor or felony offenses.

In addition to jail time and fines, property involved in criminal profiteering can be subject to forfeiture. Any property gained through a pattern of criminal profiteering activity is subject to forfeiture. This includes things purchased with money that comes from criminal activity, such as houses and cars.

Criminal Defense Strategies for Racketeering Charges

There may be several legal defenses available to racketeering charges. An individual cannot be convicted of racketeering if there was not a pattern of criminal activity or there was no criminal enterprise. If the defendant was only involved in an isolated criminal action, that may not be considered a pattern of related criminal activity.

Other defenses may include mistaken identity or suppressing evidence that police gathered in violation of the defendant's constitutional rights. When the police illegally search an individual or unlawfully seize property, that evidence may be suppressed through a legal motion, making it inadmissible in court. Talk to your criminal defense attorney for advice.