Understanding a RICO criminal charge

If you are a California resident facing criminal charges for a RICO violation, you probably are wondering exactly what RICO is and what the government must prove in order to convict you. RICO is the acronym for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act that Congress passed in 1970. Its initial purpose was to wipe out organized crime such as the types of criminal activity engaged in by the Mafia.

You need not be a Mafioso, however, to face charges of a RICO violation. Various types of white collar crimes can fall within the purview of RICO, including the following:

  • Embezzlement 
  • Forgery or counterfeiting
  • Mail and/or wire fraud
  • Money laundering
  • Credit card, bank, insurance or securities fraud
  • Internet fraud

Elements of a RICO case

The government must prove the following five things to convict you of a RICO crime:

  1. That there was an existing enterprise
  2. That it engaged in activities affecting interstate and/or foreign commerce
  3. That it employed you or that you were otherwise associated with it
  4. That the enterprise and you participated in a pattern of racketeering
  5. That the enterprise and you perpetrated at least two racketeering acts within a 10-year period

Each of these elements has specific definitions and/or requirements. The government must prove all five elements beyond a reasonable doubt.

Enterprise

A RICO enterprise is one of the following:

  • An individual
  • A corporation, partnership or any other type of legal entity
  • An association
  • An association-in-fact; i.e., a formal or informal set of individuals acting together for a common purpose

Since the RICO statute specifically states that it is illegal for someone to conspire to violate any part of Title 18, the government does not need to prove that you agreed with each and every other conspirator about everything the enterprise did. Nor does it need to prove that you even knew all the details of the conspiracy. All it must prove is that you knew about the conspiracy in general, knew that it went beyond your individual role in it, and that you agreed to participate in it.

Pattern of racketeering

A racketeering activity is called a predicate. The government must prove that each and every predicate you allegedly committed consisted of a criminal act, that they were related to each other, and that they posed a threat of future criminal activities. To prove that your alleged criminal acts were related, the government must show the following:

  • That they were not isolated events
  • That they had the same or similar purposes
  • That they included the same or similar participants
  • That they included the same or similar victims
  • That the methods by which they were committed were the same or similar
  • That your alleged predicates had the same or similar results

To prove pattern, the government must show that you and the enterprise engaged in a continuity of criminal activity. Usually, it proves continuity by showing evidence of the commission of two predicates within a 10-year period, called closed-end continuity.

However, continuity also can be proven if the government can show that at least one of your alleged predicates presented the distinct possibility, implicit or explicit, that your alleged racketeering pattern would or will continue in the future. This is known as open-ended continuity.

RICO violation criminal charges are extremely serious. You would do well to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced attorney skilled in aggressive trial advocacy.

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