Defending Against Complex RICO Charges
Many of us see organized crime portrayed in the movies and on television shows, though in reality, organized crime can look different and can occur in many situations. Federal law enforcement agencies often launch complex investigations and devote extensive resources to uncover organized crime schemes and make arrests. These arrests commonly result in RICO charges against many participants, which can have serious consequences.
RICO cases can involve many different defendants facing a variety of federal criminal charges, people making deals to cooperate with prosecutors, possible imprisonment, and many other complex circumstances. If you are under investigation or already face RICO charges, you need the right federal defense lawyer handling your case right away. Don’t wait to contact the experienced defense team at Koffsky & Felsen, LLC.
What Are RICO Charges?
Organized crime consists of a centralized enterprise of which members engage in criminal activity, often for unlawful profit or gain. These groups are often highly organized on a local, national, or international level, but even more informal associations can be charged. Some organized crime enterprises focus solely on financial gain, while others may have political motivations or aim for personal benefits. While you may traditionally think of the mafia and mobsters when it comes to organized crime, a recent report claimed that the greatest current organized crime threat in the United States is Mexican drug cartels. Organized crime can also involve politicians, corporate owners and executives, or other unlikely groups of individuals or companies.
When members of crime organizations participate in structured criminal activity, the law refers to it as racketeering. The Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law is part of the Organized Crime Control Act that specifically allows for certain charges against members of crime organizations. Federal prosecutors often use RICO charges to try to take down many members of a criminal enterprise for multiple offenses at once.
Before RICO, prosecutors could only charge organized crime members on an individual basis for offenses the specific individual personally committed. While one person may face charges and go to prison, the remainder of the organization that contributed to the crimes stayed intact. RICO allows prosecutors to charge multiple members of a criminal organization for offenses, even if they did not carry out the specific offense themselves. This allows prosecutors to try to take down both lower members of the organization, as well as leaders who give the orders. This results in extremely complex cases.
Members of crime organizations can face RICO charges if a prosecutor alleges the organization engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity. A pattern requires two or more specific offenses within 10 years, and the qualifying offenses include:
- Sports bribery
- Money laundering
- Obstruction of justice
- Mail fraud
- Wire fraud
- Trafficking counterfeit goods
- Drug trafficking
- Human trafficking
- Theft of property during interstate transportation
- Transporting stolen property over state lines
- Sexual exploitation of children
- Murder for hire
Some state-level crimes can also lead to RICO charges, such as:
- Drug crimes
Prosecutors may not only charge the individuals who committed the crimes, but also anyone in the organization associated with the offenses.
If someone commits at least two of these crimes with no direction from or connection to an organized crime enterprise, RICO charges will not apply. RICO requires a central crime organization for which the offenses occur. Such organizations can include:
- Corrupt police departments
- Corrupt political organizations or campaigns
- Corporations and other business entities
Crime organizations can also consist of unlikely groups in unexpected situations. In early 2019, federal prosecutors indicted at least 50 people in connection with a widespread college admissions scheme. Alleged offenses included bribery, mail fraud, and obstruction of justice, among others, and several people faced RICO charges as a result of this unusual organized crime.
Possible RICO Penalties
Because the government takes organized crime seriously, the law allows for potentially severe penalties for defendants convicted of RICO violations. Penalties can include:
- Twenty years in federal prison
- Fines of $250,000 or two times the unlawful profits
- Forfeiture of property or money connected to the criminal conduct
The above penalties are only for RICO convictions, and defendants may face additional prison time or fines for any underlying offenses as well.
People may also face civil liability for RICO violations. The law allows for those harmed by RICO offenses to file a lawsuit to seek significant damages. While this is separate from criminal cases, a conviction in federal criminal court can only help plaintiffs in civil RICO actions.
Like any other criminal charge, a prosecutor must prove all of the elements of a RICO offense beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction. A common defense strategy is to challenge one or more elements, including claims that:
- No criminal enterprise directed the activity
- No pattern of predicate offenses existed
- The enterprise, entity, group or gang alleged to be a corrupt organization is not an organization, but a loose association of individuals
If a prosecutor cannot prove you weren’t acting of your own volition, you shouldn’t receive a RICO conviction. In addition, if authorities have evidence of a one-time offense but cannot prove any additional predicate offenses occurred, RICO charges should not apply.
Entrapment can also form a common defense in RICO cases, as many arrests stem from undercover sting operations in which federal agents may overstep their bounds. The same goes for constitutional violations of federal authorities. Our attorneys will always scrutinize the actions of federal agents and identify when they can form part of a defense strategy. Finally, in many situations, people facing RICO allegations may have the opportunity to cooperate with the prosecutor in exchange for a lesser charge or sentence.
Discuss Your Case With an Experienced Federal RICO Defense Lawyer
If you believe you are under federal investigation for any reason, make your first call to the federal defense attorneys at Koffsky & Felsen, LLC. We handle all type of cases, including complex RICO allegations. Call (203) 327-1500 or contact us online as soon as possible to discuss your rights and the ways we can assist in your defense.