Have you been indicted on federal RICO charges? You need to defend yourself aggressively, and your defense must begin now. That’s the only way to avoid a conviction and serious criminal consequences. The experienced criminal defense attorneys at Suhre & Associates, LLC can help by challenging federal prosecutors at every turn.
Table of Contents
Understanding Federal RICO Charges
RICO stands Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations. It’s a federal law that is part of the Organized Crime Control Act, and is designed to combat organized crime. Before RICO was enacted in 1970, only individuals who actually carried out criminal acts on behalf of an organized criminal entity could be charged with a crime. So, that meant that anyone who ordered or orchestrated a crime couldn’t be held accountable unless they were physically involved in its execution.
Now, under RICO, anyone who participates in or is associated with a criminal enterprise can face charges for racketeering.
You can face criminal RICO charges if you are “employed by or associated with any enterprise engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce, to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such enterprise’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity or collection of unlawful debt.”
In very general terms, you have to have belonged to a criminal enterprise that was engaged in illegal activity that affected interstate or foreign commerce.
Elements of a Federal RICO Case
There are essentially five elements of a RICO charge.
- An enterprise must exist.
- The enterprise must affect interstate commerce or foreign commerce.
- You belong to, are employed by, or are associated with the criminal enterprise.
- You engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity.
- You conducted or participated in the conduct of the enterprise through that pattern of racketeering activity.
Let’s break that down.
What is a Criminal Enterprise?
When you hear the term “criminal enterprise” you might automatically think of:
- The mafia or mob
- Drug cartels, or
However, a criminal enterprise can be broadly interpreted to mean any group, union, or gathering of people. This includes legal entities (individual, partnership, corporation, association, or other legal entity) or non-legal entities. If there’s a group of people who are acting in concert or working together, that collective might be considered an enterprise under the RICO statute. When the goal or activity is criminal in nature, it can be considered a criminal enterprise.
Even politicians, political candidates, elected officials, and public servants can face charges under the RICO statute. A criminal enterprise can be defined to include corrupt organizations and government agencies.
Remember the college admissions scandal back in 2019? Many of the individuals involved in that scheme were prosecuted under the RICO law. Why? It was a group of at least 50 people involved in a scheme of bribery, mail fraud, and obstruction of justice. Even this isn’t your typical criminal enterprise, it fits the bill.
So, in reality, any group of people engaged in certain illicit conduct can be considered a “criminal enterprise” for RICO purposes.
Affecting Interstate or Foreign Commerce
Even though a local street gang might be considered to be a criminal enterprise, members might not be subject to RICO for their illegal activities. Why? RICO requires that the enterprise affect interstate commerce or foreign commerce. Basically, the enterprise’s activities have to cross state lines or borders in some way.
Could a local gang affect interstate commerce? Absolutely. For example, let’s say the gang was involved in the sale and distribution of controlled substances (illegal drugs). If those drugs came from another state or country, that would affect interstate or foreign commerce. So, in that case, the members could potentially be subject to RICO.
What is Racketeering?
RICO focuses specifically on racketeering. What is racketeering, though? And what is a pattern of racketeering? Simply put, you have to commit at least two related crimes within a 10-year period. Related means that the crimes are linked to one another or have similar purposes. The fact that the crimes are related will imply that you pose a “threat of continued criminal activity.”
Acts of Racketeering Activity
Not all criminal acts will trigger or warrant RICO charges. Rather, there’s a very specific list of predicate offenses, including violent offenses and white-collar crimes. In total, there are a total of 35 federal crimes and 8 state crimes that count as predicate offenses.
- Drug offenses
- Fraud, including mail fraud, securities fraud, and wire fraud
- Human trafficking
- Illegal gambling
- Illegal immigration assistance
- Money laundering
- Obstruction of justice
- Sexual exploitation of children
- Terrorism, and
- Theft of property during interstate transportation.
Remember, you can face RICO charges even if you’re not the one who carries out the crime. So, if you’re a member of the enterprise and associated with the crime, you can be indicted under the RICO statute.
What Are the Penalties For a RICO Conviction?
The federal government takes organized crime and racketeering very seriously. So, it’s no surprise that the criminal penalties associated with a federal RICO conviction tend to be very harsh. Absent any aggravating factors, and without considering the underlying offenses, a RICO conviction can result in:
- 20 years in a federal prison
- Fines, equaling $250,000 or twice the amount of any unlawful profit, and
- Mandatory forfeiture of property or money connected with the enterprise.
RICO tends to be charged in conjunction with other criminal offenses. So, if you’re indicted under RICO for a pattern of racketeering activity that includes bribery and wire fraud, you can also potentially face state and/or federal criminal charges – and penalties – for those offenses, as well.
Note that penalties will often be directly associated with your role in the criminal enterprise and racketeering activity, as well as your willingness to cooperate with the government. The RICO act exists so that individuals who are associated with crimes, but not necessarily carrying them out on the ground, can be held accountable.
The federal government is likely far more interested in indicting the leaders of the organization than low-level participants. So, it is very possible that you’ll be offered some kind of deal in exchange for providing information or helping the government to achieve that goal.
Defending Federal RICO Charges
Remember, just because you’ve been accused of racketeering doesn’t mean that you will (a) be charged with a crime or (b) get convicted. Before you can be charged, the government has to convince a grand jury to indict. This simply means convincing the grand jurors that there’s probable cause to believe that you’ve committed the crime. If the jury decides to indict, prosecutors still have to prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is an incredibly high standard and quite challenging to satisfy.
You can make the prosecution’s job even more difficult by asserting a strong defense. Enlisting the help of our federal crimes attorneys can make a massive difference in the path your defense ultimately takes. We have decades of experience representing clients in federal court against the most serious matters – including RICO charges. We appreciate how high the stakes are and know what steps have to be taken to get a positive result.
That’s why we’ll thoroughly investigate your case with the help of specialists, professionals, and experts. We’ll scrutinize evidence, subpoena pertinent information, and depose witnesses. We’ll determine which arguments might be best suited for your defense. This might include:
- There was no enterprise
- The enterprise existed but did not affect interstate commerce or foreign commerce
- You were not employed by or associated with the enterprise
- The criminal acts are not classified as predicate offenses
- You acted under force or duress
- You acted in self defense, or
- You’ve been falsely accused.
Our skilled legal team will also review how law enforcement and the government have dealt with your case. If we determine that your rights have been infringed (e.g., unlawful arrest, illegal search), we’ll bring that information to a federal judge and ask to have evidence and/or the case dismissed. A successful motion can cripple the government’s case and lead to a successful result for you.
Contact Our Experienced Federal RICO Defense Attorneys Today
Are you facing federal RICO charges in Lousiville? Contact Suhre & Associates, LLC to discuss your case and learn about your legal options. Our experienced federal defense attorneys in Lousiville have decades of combined experience handling complex federal cases. We’ll stand by your side, challenge federal prosecutors every step of the way, and fight to protect your future.
Your first case assessment is free, so give our law firm a call to arrange a time to sit down with us. Our team will review the charges against you, answer your questions, and help you understand your rights.