What Are RICO Charges?

The federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970 grew out of the frustrations of law enforcement in pursuing the activities of organized crime. The law, as intended, sought to provide a way of linking senior leaders of criminal organizations with the activities of its members. In addition to the criminal law, the RICO statute also enacted a civil cause of action regarding racketeering activities.

Over the years, prosecutors and plaintiffs have applied RICO in many different contexts. These include white-collar crime, such as corporate fraud, and even in connection with activities surrounding protests of abortion clinics nationwide. Some have expressed concerns that the RICO laws endanger the First Amendment.

Federal RICO Statute

Federal Court Reports bookshelf

Federal law requires prosecutors to prove a defendant has committed at least two acts of racketeering activity designed to support a criminal enterprise’s objectives. When it was passed in 1970, the law identified 35 offenses as racketeering activities, ranging from kidnapping and murder to bribery, theft, and securities fraud. Congress has gradually expanded the list as interpretations of the statute have grown over the years. The two offenses must occur within 10 years to be eligible for filing RICO charges.

Defendants convicted on federal RICO charges face a prison sentence of up to 20 years on each count and a fine of up to $25,000. Courts may also order defendants to forfeit any property acquired from their racketeering activities, including stakes in any businesses they may have illegally obtained from racketeering.

Though initially conceived as a tool against the mafia, the first successful application of RICO laws against members of the mob did not occur until the mid-1980s. According to multiple reports, the first-ever RICO trial involved charges against a California motorcycle gang.

RICO gained widespread attention through a series of trials involving the Gambino crime family in New York, including the highly publicized trial of John Gotti.

Interpretations of the law have expanded as the economy has modernized. For example, in 2013, a jury in Las Vegas found a defendant guilty of racketeering for crimes allegedly committed using a website. WIRED Magazine described the case as the “first-ever cybercrime RICO trial.”

Civil RICO Actions

The RICO law passed in 1970 was also unique because it gave private individuals the right to file civil lawsuits. Under the statute, plaintiffs must prove their business or property was damaged through the racketeering activities of a racketeering enterprise. Cases may be filed in either state or federal court. The law allows the plaintiffs to collect up to three times the damages suffered. Civil RICO actions have a four-year statute of limitations.

RICO Offenses

In passing the RICO statute, Congress included a list of activities that fit the definition of racketeering. That list has been amended over the years but generally consists of the following:

  • Kidnapping.
  • Murder.
  • Extortion.
  • Arson.
  • Robbery.
  • Bribery.
  • Drug trafficking.
  • Counterfeiting.
  • Theft.
  • Embezzlement.
  • Fraud.
  • Money laundering.
  • Securities fraud.
  • Terrorism.

To be found guilty under RICO statutes, a defendant must have committed two of these offenses in furtherance of the objectives of a criminal organization within 10 years.

Nevada’s RICO Law

Many states, including Nevada, have enacted their own RICO laws to provide local prosecutors with the authority to pursue leaders of criminal enterprises. According to the statute’s text, someone is guilty of racketeering activity when they engage in two or more crimes related to racketeering. As with federal law, Nevada’s statute also includes a list of crimes the legislature defines as related to racketeering.

Under the law, the commission of the crimes must follow “similar patterns, intents, results, accomplices, victims or methods of commission” or must “otherwise interrelate.” Nevada requires that the two crimes occur within five years of each other, in contrast with the federal law’s 10-year period.

Violating the Nevada racketeering statute is a category B felony, punishable by five to 20 years in state prison and a maximum fine of $25,000 plus court and legal costs. The court may also order the forfeiture of assets believed to be the fruit of racketeering activity under the theory that those assets represent ill-gotten gains.

Depending on the circumstances, the court may also impose a fine of up to three times the defendant’s gross financial gain or three times the economic losses the defendant caused.

Should You Hire an Attorney?

RICO charges are among the most serious crimes a person can face. They are also challenging to address in court since they give prosecutors extraordinary flexibility in presenting their cases. Putting together and offering a comprehensive defense requires the services of a highly experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. Your attorney must understand the circumstances that led to your arrest and indictment.

Working together, you will document the facts and map out areas that need subsequent investigation. Your attorney will apply those facts against the RICO laws to look for weaknesses in the prosecution’s case that may present avenues for dismissing or reducing the charges. For instance, a full review of the case may indicate you were subject to an improper search or that the arrest warrants served on you were obtained improperly.

An experienced defense attorney also brings value through good relationships with law enforcement. During pre-trial matters, your lawyer may have the opportunity to influence prosecutors in their thinking about the facts of the case and the charges to be filed; this may also help negotiate a reasonable outcome short of a full-fledged trial. Experience with RICO charges is also critical if your case goes to trial.

Experienced RICO Attorneys at De Castroverde Law Group in Las Vegas

The criminal law team at De Castroverde Law Group in Las Vegas includes experienced former state and federal prosecutors who understand how RICO cases unfold, the underlying offenses covered under the law, and how to develop an effective defense.

Our bilingual attorneys and professional staff specialize in many areas of criminal law, including drug offensesdisorderly conduct, and prostitution, as well as more serious offenses, such as sexual assault and murder. We also have experience in immigration law. We’ll defend you against criminal and immigration charges to the fullest extent of our ability. Contact us today for a consultation.

Photo Credit: Federal Court Reports by Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine is licensed with CC0 1.0