Criminal Law - Federal


Federal RICO laws target criminal enterprises, including criminal groups and legitimate organizations. When federal law enforcement investigates a group for racketeering activities, anyone involved should take the situation very seriously. Federal RICO crimes carry serious criminal penalties for a conviction.

If you are under investigation for criminal activity by the FBI or law enforcement, talk to a federal criminal defense attorney for legal advice.

What Are RICO Laws?

The federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) gives federal prosecutors a way to go after the mastermind responsible for organized criminal schemes. Using the RICO Act, the person who ordered another to commit a crime in support of the larger criminal organization can be charged, even if they didn’t commit the criminal act.

An enterprise includes individuals, partnerships, corporations, unions, or other groups of individuals. A criminal enterprise can include gangs, organized crime, or legitimate businesses engaging in criminal activity. Criminals may also create a legitimate business as a front to hide a criminal enterprise that is generating illegal profits.

What Is Racketeering?

You may picture a federal racketeering charge as being associated with organized crime groups involved in illegal activities like the Mafia. The definitions under RICO are broad enough to include legitimate businesses engaging in illegal schemes and not just organized crime.

For example, a network of individuals was charged with “racketeering activity” for accepting money from parents seeking illegal college admission for their kids when their grades and test scores didn’t cut it. The individuals committed a “pattern of racketeering activity” with crimes of bribery and extortion.

What Crimes Can Support a Racketeering Charge?

A prosecutor has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone committed a “pattern of criminal activity” or at least two “predicate acts” contained in the RICO statute. Usually, a predicate criminal act is committed as part of a larger scheme. Some common federal crimes listed in the definition section of the RICO Act include:

  • Murder-for-hire
  • Kidnapping
  • Illegal gambling
  • Money laundering
  • Counterfeiting
  • Embezzlement
  • Bribery
  • Extortion
  • Drug trafficking

Federal Racketeering Penalties

You can face serious penalties for a racketeering conviction. There are criminal and civil penalties. You can face the following criminal penalties for a racketeering charge:

  • Up to 20 years in federal prison
  • Fines of up to $250,000
  • Fines for twice the amount of the profits
  • Up to life in prison if the predicate crime has a maximum penalty of life
  • Property forfeiture
  • Restitution

Some of the typical civil penalties, remedies, and fines include:

  • Triple damages
  • Forfeiture of assets and property acquired by the individual or organization.
  • Injunctive relief, attorney fees, and federal court costs

RICO Defense Strategies

An experienced federal criminal defense attorney will know how to build a strong racketeering defense that makes the most sense in your case. Racketeering charges can be overcome by strong legal defenses, including:

  • Lack of probable cause (the prosecutor fails to show that two predicate criminal offenses were committed in furtherance of the larger scheme)
  • Expiration of the statute of limitations
  • Mistaken identity
  • Lack of proof

The federal government can civilly sue an individual or a business under a civil provision of the RICO Act. Civil remedies include asking the court to freeze the individual or organization’s assets at the start of the trial, so they can’t be hidden. If you are being investigated by the Department of Justice for a RICO violation, seek an experienced federal criminal defense attorney to help you navigate a civil suit or criminal charges.

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