If you own or run a business, you likely understand the implications of conducting transactions that run afoul of the law. If your employees are charged with having committed illegal acts that might be attributed to your business, you may also be charged even if there is no evidence that you were directly involved.

An illegal business that is conducted by an organized group is commonly known as a “racket.” The term “racketeering” is used to describe a scenario wherein a legitimate entity is used by a criminal organization to embezzle funds.

At one time, law enforcement officials had trouble fighting organized crime because often it was difficult to prosecute an organization’s bosses. While prosecutors were able to get convictions of an organization’s lower ranking members because they actually carried out the criminal activities, the bosses were harder to convict because there was no evidence tying them directly to the illicit acts.

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act was enacted by Congress in 1978. Under the RICO Act, a defendant may be subject to prosecution provided two conditions are met. First, the defendant must manage or own an organization. Second, that organization regularly engages in at least one specific illegal activity.

While this may seem clear-cut, RICO has been used to bring charges in situations that are not related to organized crimes. For instance, anti-abortion activists were charged under RICO for having illegally blocked abortion clinic entrances.

RICO can be applied on the federal level, but some states have also enacted similar systems for prosecuting crimes that are allegedly carried out in an organized fashion.

As it stands, RICO could be used to prosecute a wide variety of crimes. If you are facing federal racketeering charges, you will likely benefit from the representation of an attorney who is knowledgeable about the complex rules of the federal justice system.