RICO (Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act) makes it unlawful for a person to use an enterprise to launder money generated by a pattern of racketeering activity. Racketeering is when an organized group or entity runs an illegal business practice or uses a lawful organization to embezzle funds. Racketeering business practices can result in severe damage to public and private institutions. Both State and Federal government has created laws to fight against these types of organizations who engage in criminal racketeering.
How Can a RICO Violation Claim Be Proved?
How can a claim be proved that a person has acquired or maintained an interest in an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity? Under RICO, it is a federal crime to do any of the following activities:
- Use money that is gained through unlawful racketeering
- Collection of an unlawful debt to acquire, establish, or operate any enterprise that has an effect on interstate commerce
- Acquire or maintain an interest in any organization through racketeering activity
The prosecution must also prove that the defendant was engaged in a pattern of racketeering. In order for a pattern to exists, the acts must be related and must be shown that the defendant's did not just commit one crime, but participated in a ongoing criminal activity or scheme through a long period or length of time.
What Damages Can a Civil RICO Plaintiff Gain?
Persons that are injured as a result of a RICO violation can bring a civil cause of action to recover damages under the terms of the act. A plaintiff is required to prove financial loss in order to be allowed to recover from the defendant. The plaintiff does not need to wait until the defendant is criminally convicted in order to recover civil damages. If a plaintiff can prove a RCO violatin in civil court and proves that they suffered financial damages, the federal court can order the defendant to:
- pay triple the amount of damages to the plaintiff
- pay the plaintiff's cost and attorney fees
- Order the defendant to stop engaging n certain business activities
- Dissolve the defendant's organization
How Can You Prove a Civil RICO Claim?
There are several elements to a civil RICO claim that must be proved in order to win. You must show that a defendant was employed by a business or enterprise that engaged in or affected interstate commerce which defendant operated or managed through a pattern of racketeering activity from which the injury resulted.
In order to convict someone under RICO or a state law that is similar, the prosecutor does not need to prove that the person personally committed an illegal activity. The prosecutor only has to prove:
- The defendant owns and manages an organization
- The organization regularly performs one or more illegal activity
- Plaintiff's business or property was injured as a direct or proximate result of defendant's RICO violation
Who Qualifies as a Defendant in a RICO Claim?
A defendant can be an individual or a corporation so long as the defendant was engaged in the criminal activity prohibited by RICO. Naming an entity as simply a RICO enterprise does not impose any liability on that entity. A person must be identified.
What Qualifies as an Criminal Enterprise in a RICO Claim?
An enterprise can be a legal entity such as a partnership, corporation, or other similar type of association as well as an illegal entity such as a Mafia family. To constitute a criminal enterprise, the group or entity must:
- be an ongoing organization that functions as a unit
- have a common purpose
- exists separate and apart from the members that engage in the criminal activity
The enterprise's purpose does not have to be illegal. The enterprise purpose can still be valid and legal, but may only have a illegal purpose. For example, a business or entity can be legal and valid, but they can be together for a number of years doing unlawful activity such as making bribes.
What Can You Do If You Are Accused of a RICO Violation?
Each count of racketeering is punishable for up to 20 years imprisonment. The court can also impose heavy fines that is twice as much as the defendant's gains and profits. The consequences for federal RICO prosecution and civil suits are very serious and can cost you. If you are being investigated or have already been charged with a RICO violation, you should contact a criminal defense attorney who is experienced in defendant RICO cases.
What If I Am a Victim of a RICO Violation?
If you are a victim of a RICO violation, you should call the police. If there is sufficient evidence, the police will then forward your case to the Attorney General's office to prosecute the person or organization that committed the RICO Violation against you.