The RICO Act is a complex, vast piece of criminal legislation that was passed in 1970 with the intention of targeting the Mafia and organized crime groups. The acronym, RICO, stands for “Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations,” and has a much farther reaching scope today than organized crime. If you are being investigated for RICO related charges, you need a racketeering attorney in Raleigh who can challenge federal prosecutors and set up an aggressive legal defense.
At Sandman, Finn, & Fitzhugh, our clients benefit from our 60 years of combined legal experience working as both Assistant District Attorneys for Wake County and as criminal defense attorneys in state and federal cases in the Eastern District and Western District of North Carolina. We have a unique perception into “both sides” which allows us to provide our clients with insightful, aggressive defense strategies and work tirelessly to help them achieve justice. Before talking to investigators, sit down with a member of our criminal defense team for a free consultation.
Understanding the RICO Act
Under the RICO laws, a person who is accused of committing at least “two acts of racketeering activity” from a list of 35 crimes within a 10-year time frame can be charged with racketeering if those acts relate in one of four specific ways to an “enterprise.” Passed in 1970, RICO laws are specifically intended to provide federal prosecutors a way to crack down on organized crime and patterns of criminal coercion and fraudulent activity.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in order to be found guilty of violating RICO laws, the federal prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- An enterprise existed.
- The enterprise played a role in interstate commerce.
- The defendant was either employed by or associated with the enterprise.
- The defendant had at least two occurrences of racketeering activity over a 10 year time span.
- The defendant conducted racketeering activity on behalf of the enterprise.
Racketeering is a crime in which a person, either individually, or as part of an organization, attempts to gain money or property from someone else, usually through intimidation or aggression. The term comes from the term “racket” which is a criminal activity related to creating a problem in order to offer a service to fix that problem.
For example, a person in the neighborhood promises local shop owners that if they pay him a set fee each week, he will prevent shoplifters from stealing from their store. The racket is that the shoplifters work for him.
There are currently 35 illegal activities that can fall under racketeering if they are committed in order to extort or coerce money or property from another person. These include, but aren’t limited to:
- Violation of state crimes, including murder, rape, kidnapping, arson, extortion, robbery, bribery, and dealing in a controlled substance.
- Human trafficking
- Money laundering
- Bankruptcy fraud
- Securities or investment fraud
- Aiding illegal immigrants from entering the country for financial gain
- Drug trafficking
- Mail fraud or wire fraud
RICO also can be used to indict someone for threatening or retaliating against witnesses or victims who work with federal law enforcement.
Examples of Racketeering
RICO laws led to a large crackdown of organized crime and gang violence, weakening the Mafia in the 1980s and 1990s. While organized crime is still a focus, today, more common examples of racketeering include cyber-extortion, such as when a hacker infects a computer with malware that shuts the system down, then requests a “ransom” to unlock the computer. RICO is also used to prosecute street gang violence in cities as well as reduce corporate racketeering.
In 2018, federal racketeering charges were filed against over a dozen opioid medication manufacturers. Prosecutors alleged that the companies misrepresented the danger and risk of addictions, turning “patients into drug addicts for corporate profit.”
Penalties Related to a RICO Conviction
If found guilty of RICO charges, the defendant can receive up to 20 years in prison for each count of racketeering. In addition to lengthy prison sentences, all assets related to the enterprise, even legitimate or legal aspects of the enterprise, are forfeited. RICO also allows civil lawsuits against defendants, so that those who feel they are victims of racketeering can bring a claim.
North Carolina Racketeering Laws
In addition to federal racketeering laws, North Carolina also has laws under General Statute 14-75D related to money laundering and RICO. In most cases, the charges are passed to federal investigators and prosecutors, but it’s important to have a racketeering attorney in Raleigh who can defend you in the event of both state and federal charges.
Contacting a Racketeering Attorney in Raleigh
Racketeering and RICO laws are incredibly complex but more importantly, these are charges that federal investigators and prosecutors take very seriously and have the resources to go after individuals and organizations tirelessly to get a conviction, and it often works – over 95 percent of federal charges result in a conviction. If you are under investigation for RICO, you need a racketeering attorney who will provide you with a comprehensive defense strategy, including interviewing witnesses, investigating allegations, and aggressively fighting on your behalf in court if necessary.
Whether you are under investigation or have already been charged, the time to act is now. To contact our legal team for representation in the Eastern District of North Carolina and set up a free consultation, call (919) 887-8040 or fill out our contact form to get started!