RICO (Racketeer Influenced And Corrupt Organization Act)

By Daisy Rogozinsky
July 24, 2022

The Racketeer Influenced And Corrupt Organization Act, also called RICO, allows for the prosecution of members of criminal groups who engage in racketeering activities. In this article, we’ll explain the Racketeer Influenced And Corrupt Organization Act and how it works in criminal and civil courts. 

Key Takeaways

  • The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) is a federal law designed to fight organized crime in the U.S. 
  • RICO defines 35 offenses as racketeering including drug trafficking, kidnapping, murder, and bribery
  • RICO allows for both criminal prosecution and civil penalties
  • To convict a criminal under RICO or win a civil RICO lawsuit, there must be evidence that the defendant had a pattern of criminal activity and ties to an ongoing criminal enterprise
  • Criminal enterprises include drug cartels, crime families, street gangs, and more

What Is the RICO (Racketeer Influenced And Corrupt Organization Act)?

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) is a federal law intended to fight organized crime in the United States. This law has been used to prosecute members of criminal groups such as the Hells Angels, Operation Rescue, the Mafia, street gangs, cartels, and more. Passed in 1970, RICO allows for the prosecution of civil penalties for racketeering activity related to an ongoing criminal enterprise.

There are 35 offenses defined by the law as racketeering, including: 

  • Drug trafficking
  • Embezzlement
  • Kidnapping
  • Money laundering
  • Murder
  • Illegal gambling
  • Counterfeiting
  • Slavery
  • Bribery
  • Wire fraud

RICO and Criminal Law

In order to convict a defendant under RICO, the federal government must prove that he or she engaged in at least two instances of racketeering activity within ten years and directly invested in, maintained an interest in, or participated in a criminal enterprise affecting interstate or foreign commerce. Any of the following can qualify as an enterprise:

  • Drug cartels
  • Political parties
  • Crime families
  • Street gangs
  • Managed care companies
  • Corporations

Criminals charged under RICO can be sentenced to prison terms of 20 years and severe financial penalties. 

RICO and Civil Law

In addition to its criminal component, there is also a civil component to RICO that allows anybody who has been injured by a RICO violation to bring a civil suit and receive treble damages, up to three times actual or compensatory damages.  

To successfully make a RICO claim in a civil lawsuit, a plaintiff must be able to demonstrate: 

  • Criminal activity - That the defendant committed one of the enumerated RICO crimes 
  • A pattern of criminal activity - That the defendant committed at least two crimes that were related in some way, such as having the same victim, the same methods, the same participants, or occurring continuously 
  • Within the statute of limitations - The four-year statute of limitations for RICO begins from the time the victim discovers their damages

People believing they may have a civil or criminal RICO case are highly recommended to work with experienced lawyers, as the law is highly complex. An attorney can help you determine whether or not you have a case to make, which is important because RICO suits can be quite costly.

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