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Federal RICO Charges

What Is RICO?

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) is a federal law enacted in 1970 as part of the Organized Crime Control Act to contain and eradicate organized crime in the U.S. This law allows the federal government to prosecute organized groups and enterprises that run illegal businesses and engage in certain crimes, whether directly or indirectly, across state borders.

Before 1970, only individuals who committed the actual crimes could be charged and prosecuted. Through RICO, federal prosecutors can now arrest those who ordered, conspired, and participated in those crimes. RICO has since been used to shut down street gangs, mafia, and cartels. It’s also been used to prosecute the police and several sports, political, and religious groups that engaged in organized criminal activity.

Elements of a RICO Charge

For federal racketeering charges to stick, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the following elements:

  1. The enterprise exists.

  2. The enterprise affected foreign or interstate commerce.

  3. The defendant is connected to the enterprise as an employee or by association.

  4. The defendant engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity or collection of unlawful debt.

  5. The defendant, through his pattern of racketeering acts, conducted or participated in the conduct of the enterprise.

  6. The defendant committed at least two acts of racketeering activity within the last ten years.

  7. The two acts of racketeering activity are related and are likely to continue in the future.

If the federal RICO charges against you lack one or more of these elements, they are unlikely to hold up in court. It’s crucial to consult a Chicago felony lawyer as soon as possible to prepare the right defenses.

Criminal Acts that Constitute a RICO Offense

Under the RICO Act, 35 crimes, known as predicate crimes, can constitute a RICO offense when the elements of such offense, as explained above, are met. These include:

  • Terrorism

  • Murder

  • Murder-for-hire

  • Kidnapping

  • Gambling

  • Extortion

  • Arson

  • Bribery

  • Robbery

  • Theft

  • Counterfeiting

  • Embezzlement

  • Embezzlement of union funds

  • Money laundering

  • Fraud, including wire fraud and mail fraud

  • Bankruptcy, bank fraud, or securities fraud

  • Obstruction of justice

  • Dealing in obscene matter

  • Drug trafficking or the sale of a controlled substance or chemical

  • Slavery

  • Human smuggling

What Are the Penalties for a Federal RICO Conviction?

Those convicted of federal RICO violations can be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years imprisonment or life in prison if the predicate crimes are punishable as such. They may also be ordered to pay fines of $25,000 for each count of RICO conviction or twice the proceeds they generated from the offense.

Those convicted may have to forfeit all property acquired through the violation of the RICO statute. This includes real property, tangible and intangible personal property, securities, and more.

Victims of RICO crimes are also entitled to compensation for their damages by filing a RICO claim in civil court. They can claim up to three times their losses in damages.

What Are Common Defenses Against Federal RICO Charges?

Challenging the fulfillment of the RICO elements may be the only way to defend a RICO charge. Sometimes, your counsel can investigate and raise constitutional violations that may have taken place anywhere along the legal process.

Therefore, your federal criminal defense attorney can seek to prove any or all of the following:

  • The defendant is not associated with the criminal enterprise

  • There was no criminal enterprise

  • There was no pattern of racketeering activity

  • The arrest was unlawful

  • Illegal search and seizure

Other defenses, including mistaken identity and the absence of financial gain from the criminal activity, may apply to your case. An experienced lawyer will study your case and build the appropriate defenses for you.

Federal vs. State RICO Laws

After the federal RICO statute was enacted in 1970, several other states, including Illinois, passed their own versions of the law. State RICO laws impose stiffer penalties and provide a clearer definition of what constitutes a RICO offense. A person charged under the RICO Act can also be charged under the state RICO.

Illinois RICO law provides that it is unlawful for a person who runs or participates in the operation of an enterprise to, whether directly or indirectly:

  • Run, manage, or serve such enterprise through a pattern of predicate crimes

  • Cause another person to commit a predicate act in violation of this act

  • Conspire to violate this act

It’s also illegal under this act for a person to acquire or control an enterprise through a pattern of predicate crimes. It’s worth noting that a predicate crime in Illinois is any Class 2 felony or higher according to state law.

Violating this statute is a Class X felony, the highest in Illinois. Upon conviction for RICO violations in Illinois, the convicted could face 7 to 30 years imprisonment and fines of up to $250,000. If the criminal activity generated proceeds for the convict, the fine will be twice those proceeds, provided the total amount is not less than $250,000.

If the criminal activity resulted in unlawful death, the minimum penalty is increased to 25 years in prison.

Facing state RICO charges can have dire consequences if not properly handled. Consider reaching out to our Illinois criminal defense lawyer at Hirsch Law Group for experienced legal guidance.

Hirsch Law Group Is Here for You

As soon as you learn that you are subject to an investigation for a RICO violation, call the Hirsch Law Group immediately. If you get arrested, request an attorney and don’t answer any questions until your legal counsel is with you. It’s critical to act immediately if you want to have a chance at fighting these serious charges.

It’s important to choose a criminal defense attorney with extensive experience defending RICO charges. Attorneys at Hirsch Law Group have what it takes to provide the adequate defense you need. Contact us today to schedule a no-obligation initial consultation.