Penalties for a Federal Racketeering (RICO) Crime

Federal racketeering charges are governed by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act , a law Congress enacted with the intention of preventing organized crime syndicates from infiltrating legitimate businesses and organizations that operate in the nation’s interstate commerce.  

While the law initially targeted mafia-like criminal organizations, prosecutors have used the statute to reach other, more ordinary criminal conspiracies. This expanded application of the RICO law is one of the most potent tools in the government’s arsenal to prosecute individuals who would never consider themselves to be involved in “organized crime.” 

At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, we have extensive experience representing people accused of crimes by the federal government and by the State of Florida. We devote our entire law practice to defending the rights of people who are indicted for any of a wide range of serious offenses, including RICO crimes. If you have been charged with a Racketeering offense, contact our office today for a full review of your case and to discuss how Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law can provide the most effective criminal defense services. 




Defining Federal Racketeering Charges – What Is Racketeering? 

The federal RICO statute defines “racketeering activities” as follows: 

Any act or threat involving murder, kidnapping, gambling, arson, robbery, bribery, extortion, dealing in obscene matter, or dealing in a controlled substance or listed chemical which is chargeable under state law and punishable by imprisonment for more than one year, or any act that is indictable under any of the Title 18 US Code provisions relating to bribery, sports bribery, counterfeiting, felonious theft from an interstate shipment, embezzlement from pension and welfare funds, extortionate credit transactions, straw purchasing, trafficking in firearms, fraudulent identification documents, access devices, transmission of gambling information, mail fraud, wire fraud, financial institution fraud, fraud in foreign labor contracting, fraudulent immigration documents, obscene material, obstructing justice, obstructing a criminal investigation, obstructing state or local law enforcement, money laundering, murder, murder-for-hire, sexual exploitation, (and many more criminal activities). 

This extensive partial list of criminal offenses that can lead to a RICO prosecution illustrates how far-reaching the RICO laws can be in the hands of a highly motivated federal prosecutor. Any person facing a federal RICO prosecution must have the benefit of a skilled and knowledgeable federal criminal defense lawyer to ensure they optimize their chance of either winning an acquittal, getting one or more charges dismissed or obtaining the most favorable negotiated result possible in the circumstances of their case. 


Read More > How Long is the Statute of Limitations for Federal Crimes?  


Elements of Federal Racketeering Charges 

To establish federal racketeering charges under RICO, prosecutors must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt: 

  1. 1. The Existence of an Enterprise: The accused must be associated with an enterprise, which can be any legal entity, including corporations, partnerships, associations, or even informal groups. The enterprise must engage in, or have a purpose related to, interstate or foreign commerce.
  2. Pattern of Racketeering Activity: The accused must have engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity defined as at least two acts of racketeering within a ten-year period. These acts must be related and demonstrate a continuity of criminal conduct. (It’s important to note that §1962(a) of the RICO statute prohibits investing any income derived from a pattern of racketeering activity to acquire any interest in an enterprise.)
  3. Control or Influence: The accused must have either directly participated in the operation or management of the enterprise or conducted the affairs of the enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity.


Penalties for Federal Racketeering Charges 

Federal racketeering charges carry severe penalties upon conviction, including: 

Prison Sentences: Individuals convicted of federal racketeering charges face lengthy prison sentences, often ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment, depending on the severity of the offenses and the defendant’s criminal history. 

Fines: Convicted individuals are subject to fines of up to $250,000 or twice the value of the proceeds of the crime. This could amount to millions of dollars.  

Restitution: The court can order convicted individuals to pay restitution to victims of the racketeering activity, compensating them for financial losses incurred as a result of the defendant’s criminal conduct. 

Mandatory Forfeiture of Assets: In addition to fines and restitution, the court orders the forfeiture of all assets derived from or used to facilitate the racketeering activity, including real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, and other property. 

Supervised Release: Upon completion of the prison sentence, convicted individuals will be subject to supervised release during which time they must comply with conditions and restrictions imposed by the court. 


Effective Defense Strategies for Federal Racketeering Charges 

All defendants facing federal racketeering charges require a robust and well-designed defense strategy tailored to the unique circumstances of their case. Examples of some effective defense strategies include these: 

  1. Challenging the prosecution’s evidence offered to prove the existence of an enterprise, or the required pattern (2 or more in 10 year) of racketeering activity, or the defendant’s knowing involvement often weakens the government’s case and raises sufficient reasonable doubt to avoid a conviction. 
  2. Protecting the defendant’s constitutional rights, including the right to due process, the right to remain silent, and the right to legal counsel, is essential in mounting an effective defense against federal racketeering charges. Law enforcement officers at all levels are human and often make simple procedural errors that have negative legal consequences for the prosecuting attorney’s case. Examples include illegal searches or seizures of evidence without sufficient probable cause, violation of the defendant’s right to counsel, privilege against self-incrimination, etc. 
  3. Examining other procedural issues such as the statute of limitations, venue, and improper indictment also presents opportunities to challenge the validity of the charges or seek dismissal of the case. 
  4. In some cases, negotiating a plea agreement with prosecutors can result in reduced charges or lesser penalties, particularly for individuals willing to cooperate with law enforcement or provide valuable information. This is most common when the defendant is a tangential participant in the RICO activity, has no prior record of convictions, and has other mitigating factors in their favor. 


Federal racketeering charges under the RICO Act represent one of the most serious offenses in federal criminal law enforcement. Crimes charged as RICO offenses carry severe penalties and require the highest level of expertise and professionalism by your defense lawyer. 

With many years of experience working every day in federal and state courts throughout Florida, the attorneys at Stechschulte Nell know that it’s imperative to provide clients facing racketeering charges with the guidance, advocacy, and expertise needed to prevail in criminal justice. By understanding the elements of federal racketeering charges, exploring viable defense strategies, and advocating zealously on behalf of clients, Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, can help you face RICO allegations protect their rights, and work for the most favorable outcomes possible in each case. 

Contact us today for a case review at 813-280-1244.  

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