Racketeering refers to a criminal activity in which an organization runs an illegal business, known as a racket, which creates a problem for others for the purpose of solving it through some type of extortion. In other words, racketeering is when an organized group intimidates legitimate businesses, or individuals coercing them into allowing the group to embezzle money from their business. In 1970, Congress passed the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, in an effort to disrupt and dismantle organized crime.
Federal level racketeering
There is no question about it – according to the RICO laws, it is a federal crime to participate in, or make money from, racketeering of any kind. Whereas organized crime leaders were “immune” to the charges brought against their subordinates because they did not actually commit the bribery, extortion, or murder they ordered, the passage of RICO allows for the prosecution of all individuals involved in an illegitimate organization.
RICO defines 35 criminal offenses that constitute racketeering activity, including murder, bribery, and obstruction of justice. Each of these activities is already illegal; however, when they are committed as part of a criminal enterprise – such as in a criminal gang – they become subject to federal racketeering charges under RICO.
But what constitutes a criminal enterprise? In order to be considered a criminal enterprise, a group must be a continuing organization that functions as a single unit, shares a common purpose, and exists separately and apart from the individual members’ criminal activities. Under this definition, two people who committed a crime together once cannot be prosecuted under RICO laws, but a group of people who continually meet in order to work together to bribe city officials could be prosecuted under RICO.
Punishment for racketeering
Every count of racketeering a defendant is faced with can be punished with up to 20 years of imprisonment. Furthermore, racketeering carries a life sentence if the base crime – murder, bribery, obstruction of justice – is punishable by life imprisonment. Finally, RICO permits the forfeiture of any assets obtained by the defendant through racketeering activities.
Federal racketeering charges are very serious. If you have been accused of a crime that falls under federal racketeering laws, consult an experienced defense attorney immediately.
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