When you hear the term racketeering you might associate it with organized crime, specifically the Mafia/mob, street gangs, and gang cartels. And while that was the initial reason for creating the RICO Act in the 1970s, today there are many reasons for criminal racketeering charges.
The legal definition of racketeering is left purposely broad so it can encompass any modern-day racket, or illegal business, that is operated by organized, yet allegedly corrupt groups. If you have been caught up in a racketeering scheme, it can potentially mean a lifetime of imprisonment and/or hefty financial fines. Federal trial attorney Ben Stechschulte explains racketeering defense:
What is Racketeering?
Racketeering is not a specific crime or a single criminal act. Racketeering is more about engaging in an illegal scheme and to be charged and convicted of racketeering, prosecutors must prove a pattern with at least two instances of racketeering activity within ten years.
In 1970, Congress passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act or RICO Act, with the declared purpose of seeking to eradicate organized crime in the United States. Before RICO, Federal prosecutors were unable to legally tie organized crime leaders to those committing the crime.
Since its implementation, the federal law remains purposefully broad and has been used to prosecute other types of cases that are not just organized crime, but involved a corrupt organization, such as insider trading.
What’s Needed to Prove Racketeering?
In addition to the federal racketeering statutes, each state also has its own criminal statute that defines racketeering. Federal and state racketeering laws both make it a crime for criminal organizations or enterprises to receive income through its illegal businesses or rackets.
In Florida, the RICO Act classifies racketeering as:
A 1st-degree felony punishable up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Federally, a conviction can lead to a maximum 20-year sentence and $25,000 in fines per count.
Anyone that is facing a RICO charge may be facing other charges, it’s very important to have skilled Federal criminal defense to minimize your risk at trial.
Potential Examples of Rackets
To violate the RICO Act, a person must engage in a pattern of racketeering activity that is connected to an enterprise. An enterprise is defined as any legal or illegal entity (corporation, partnership, or individual), and like racketeering’s broad definition the federal statute also holds an expansive statutory definition on the term enterprise to make prosecution more applicable as needed.
Federal law currently defines 35 different types of offenses that constitute racketeering. These crimes must have occurred within 10 years and committed through the enterprise to be considered racketeering.
Some of the most common rackets include:
- Money laundering
- Bankruptcy or securities fraud
- Murder or Commission of murder to hire
- Human smuggling
- Criminal copyright infringement
To be convicted of racketeering on a federal level, a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt five different criteria:
- A criminal enterprise existed
- The enterprise affected interstate commerce
- The defendant was associated with or employed by the enterprise
- The defendant engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity
- The defendant participated in at least two acts of racketeering activity
Charged With Racketeering? Call Stechschulte Nell
Racketeering/RICO charges are extremely serious and complex and typically indicate underlying crimes as well. If you are convicted, whether it is through federal or state charges, you are most likely facing a lifetime of imprisonment.
It is in your best interest to contact a federal criminal defense attorney at Stechschulte Nell. Our Tampa, FL-based lawyers have over 25 years of experience. Attorney Ben Stechschulte is a board-certified trial lawyer.