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Breaking Down the RICO Act: What You Need to Know in Organized Crime Cases

By Hager & Schwartz, P.A.

May 25, 2023

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO Act) is a federal law enacted in 1970 to combat organized crime in the United States. The RICO Act provides a powerful tool for prosecutors to target individuals and entire organizations. The RICO Act has been instrumental in disrupting and dismantling organized crime operations by tying together seemingly unrelated crimes and allowing defendants to be convicted and punished for both the underlying crimes and RICO violations. The RICO Act defines various offenses as racketeering activity. It provides civil and criminal penalties for individuals and organizations engaging in such conduct.

If you are facing RICO Act charges, seeking experienced legal representation from a criminal defense law firm like Hager & Schwartz, P.A. to effectively defend against these complex allegations is imperative.

Schedule a consultation with a member of our Miami team by calling us at (305) 330-1360.

Understanding Organized Crime

Organized crime refers to a complex and structured enterprise engaged in illegal activities that often cross state or international borders. It typically involves individuals working together to conduct criminal activities systematically. One of the defining characteristics of organized crime is the pattern of racketeering activities, which includes a series of related criminal acts committed over time.

Organized crime can manifest in various forms, involving various illegal activities.

These activities can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Drug trafficking
  • Human trafficking
  • Money laundering
  • Extortion
  • Smuggling
  • Counterfeiting
  • Illegal gambling

Additionally, organized crime can involve white-collar crimes such as insider trading, fraud, and political corruption. What sets organized crime apart from individual offenses is the continued and related criminal activity often conducted through legitimate or illegitimate businesses, allowing the criminal enterprise to generate substantial profits.

The U.S. Congress passed the RICO Act in 1970 to respond to the growing threat of organized crime in the country. The Act was specifically designed to strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to prosecute organized crime and target criminal enterprises engaged in ongoing, systematic illegal activities. One critical feature of the RICO Act is its ability to tie seemingly unrelated crimes into a pattern of racketeering activity, allowing prosecutors to go after the individual criminals and the entire criminal organization.

Elements of a RICO Case

To establish a RICO case, federal prosecutors must prove several elements.

These elements include the following:

  • Showing a pattern of racketeering activity: The prosecution must prove that the defendant engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity, which typically involves committing at least two acts of racketeering within 10 years. These acts must be related and demonstrate a potential for continued criminal activity. Racketeering activities are defined by law and include a wide range of illegal conduct, such as murder, kidnapping, gambling, arson, theft of trade secrets, copyright infringement, and misuse of a passport.
  • Proving the existence of an enterprise: The prosecution must also establish the existence of an enterprise, which can be any individual, partnership, corporation, association, or group of individuals that engage in ongoing criminal conduct with a common purpose. This can involve legitimate and illegitimate organizations.
  • Establishing the defendant’s involvement in the enterprise: The prosecution must also demonstrate that the defendant participated in the enterprise as an associate or employee and participated in the commission of the racketeering activities. This can involve showing the defendant’s role in planning, organizing, or directing the enterprise’s activities.
  • Demonstrating the impact of the racketeering activity on interstate commerce: Another element of a RICO case is establishing that the racketeering activities affected interstate commerce. This can involve showing how the activities affected or harmed businesses or individuals across state or international borders.

The penalties for RICO Act violations can be severe. An individual can face imprisonment for up to 20 years and substantial fines if convicted. Additionally, the RICO Act allows for the forfeiture of assets and proceeds obtained from racketeering activities. Moreover, individuals found guilty of RICO violations may also face civil lawsuits from those harmed, potentially resulting in significant financial liabilities.

Defending Against RICO Charges

Combating organized crime requires a strategic legal approach due to the complex nature of these criminal enterprises. Organized crime operations are often highly sophisticated and well-organized, with extensive networks and resources. As such, law enforcement agencies must utilize specialized investigative techniques, such as wiretapping, surveillance, and financial analysis, to effectively investigate and prosecute organized crime cases.

Similarly, the legal defenses employed in organized crime cases can be intricate and multi-faceted, often involving jurisdiction, evidence-collection, and constitutional rights challenges. Thus, a skilled and experienced legal team, well-versed in the intricacies of organized crime law, is crucial in mounting an effective defense.

Common defenses in RICO cases include the following:

  • Challenging the sufficiency of the evidence presented by the prosecution: Scrutinizing the evidence the prosecution presents and identifying any weaknesses or inconsistencies that may cast doubt on the alleged racketeering activity or the existence of an enterprise.
  • Attacking the credibility of witnesses: Carefully examining the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses and exposing any inconsistencies, biases, or ulterior motives that may impact their testimony.
  • Disproving the elements of racketeering activity or enterprise: Analyzing the alleged acts of racketeering activity and the enterprise’s alleged structure to challenge the prosecution’s claims and highlight any lack of evidence or legal deficiencies.
  • Challenging the legality of evidence: Investigating and challenging the methods law enforcement officials used in obtaining evidence or conducting investigations, such as violations of Fourth Amendment rights, to potentially suppress evidence or weaken the prosecution’s case.

Discuss Your Case with Hager & Schwartz, P.A.

Defending against RICO charges requires a comprehensive understanding of the complex legal framework of the RICO Act and the strategies to challenge the prosecution’s case effectively. Experienced legal representation with a track record of handling federal cases is crucial. A skilled attorney can provide invaluable guidance, develop a strategic defense plan tailored to the specific case, and vigorously protect the rights and interests of the accused.

To speak with one of our Miami lawyers, contact us at (305) 330-1360.