Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act
Long title
An Act relating to the control of organized crime in the United States
  • RICO
  • Nicknames
    Organized Crime Control Act of 1970
    Enacted by
    the 91st United States Congress
    October 15, 1970
    Public law
    Statutes at Large
    84 Stat. 922-3 aka 84 Stat. 941
    Titles amended
    18 U.S.C.: Crimes and Criminal Procedure
    U.S.C. sections created
    18 U.S.C. §§ 19611968
    Legislative history
    • Introduced in the Senate as S. 30 by John L. McClellan (DAR)
    • Passed the Senate on January 23, 1970 (74-1)
    • Passed the House on October 7, 1970 (341-26)
    • Signed into law by President Richard Nixon on October 15, 1970
    The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly referred to as the RICO Act or simply RICO, is a United States federal law that provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization. The RICO Act focuses specifically on racketeering and allows the leaders of a syndicate to be tried for the crimes they ordered others to do or assisted them in doing, closing a perceived loophole that allowed a person who instructed someone else to, for example, murder, to be exempt from the trial because they did not actually commit the crime personally.[1]
    RICO was enacted by section 901(a) of the
    Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 (Pub.L. 91–452, 84 Stat. 922, enacted October 15, 1970) and is codified at 18 U.S.C. ch. 96 as 18 U.S.C. §§ 19611968. G. Robert Blakey, an adviser to the United States Senate Government Operations Committee, drafted the law under the close supervision of the committee's chairman, Senator John Little McClellan. It was enacted as Title IX of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, and signed into law by Richard M. Nixon. While its original use in the 1970s was to prosecute the Mafia as well as others who were actively engaged in organized crime, its later application has been more widespread.
    Beginning in 1972, 33 states adopted state RICO laws to be able to prosecute similar conduct.

    Under RICO, a person who has committed "at least two acts of racketeering activity" drawn from a list of 35 crimes—27
    federal crimes and 8 state crimes—within a 10-year period can be charged with racketeering if such acts are related in one of four specified ways to an "enterprise".[citation needed] Those found guilty of racketeering can be fined up to $25,000 and sentenced to 20 years in prison per racketeering count.[citation needed] In addition, the racketeer must forfeit all ill-gotten gains and interest in any business gained through a pattern of "racketeering activity."[citation needed]
    When the
    U.S. Attorney decides to indict someone under RICO, they have the option of seeking a pre-trial restraining order or injunction to temporarily seize a defendant's assets and prevent the transfer of potentially forfeitable property, as well as require the defendant to put up a performance bond. This provision was placed in the law because the owners of Mafia-related shell corporations often absconded with the assets. An injunction and/or performance bond ensures that there is something to seize in the event of a guilty verdict.
    In many cases, the threat of a RICO indictment can force defendants to plead guilty to lesser charges, in part because the seizure of assets would make it difficult to pay a defense
    attorney. Despite its harsh provisions, a RICO-related charge is considered easy to prove in court since it focuses on patterns of behavior as opposed to criminal acts.[2]
    RICO also permits a private individual "damaged in his business or property" by a "racketeer" to file a
    civil suit. The plaintiff must prove the existence of an "enterprise". The defendant(s) are not the enterprise; in other words, the defendant(s) and the enterprise are not one and the same.[3] There must be one of four specified relationships between the defendant(s) and the enterprise: either the defendant(s) invested the proceeds of the pattern of racketeering activity into the enterprise (18 U.S.C. § 1962(a)); or the defendant(s) acquired or maintained an interest in, or control of, the enterprise through the pattern of racketeering activity (subsection (b)); or the defendant(s) conducted or participated in the affairs of the enterprise "through" the pattern of racketeering activity (subsection (c)); or the defendant(s) conspired to do one of the above (subsection (d)).[4] In essence, the enterprise is either the 'prize,' 'instrument,' 'victim,' or 'perpetrator' of the racketeers.[5] A civil RICO action can be filed in state or federal court.[6]
    Both the criminal and civil components allow the recovery of
    treble damages (damages in triple the amount of actual/compensatory damages).
    Although its primary intent was to deal with
    organized crime, Blakey said that Congress never intended it to merely apply to the Mob. He once told Time, "We don't want one set of rules for people whose collars are blue or whose names end in vowels, and another set for those whose collars are white and have Ivy League diplomas."[2]
    Initially, prosecutors were skeptical of using RICO, mainly because it was unproven. The RICO Act was first used by the US Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York on September 18, 1979, in the United States v. Scotto. Scotto, who was convicted on charges of racketeering, accepting unlawful labor payments, and income tax evasion, headed the International Longshoreman's Association. During the 1980s and 1990s, federal prosecutors used the law to bring charges against several Mafia figures. The second major success was the
    Mafia Commission Trial, which resulted in several top leaders of New York City's Five Families getting what amounted to life sentences. By the turn of the century, RICO cases resulted in virtually all of the top leaders of the New York Mafia being sent to prison.

    RICO predicate offenses[edit]
    Under the law, the meaning of racketeering activity is set out at 18 U.S.C. § 1961. As currently amended it includes:
    Pattern of racketeering activity requires at least two acts of racketeering activity, one of which occurred after the effective date of this chapter and the last of which occurred within ten years (excluding any period of imprisonment) after the commission of a prior act of racketeering activity. The US Supreme Court has instructed federal courts to follow the continuity-plus-relationship test in order to determine whether the facts of a specific case give rise to an established pattern. Predicate acts are related if they "have the same or similar purposes, results, participants, victims, or methods of commission, or otherwise are interrelated by distinguishing characteristics and are not isolated events." (H.J. Inc. v. Northwestern Bell Telephone Co.) Continuity is both a closed and open ended concept, referring to either a closed period of conduct, or to past conduct that by its nature projects into the future with a threat of repetition.

    Although some of the RICO predicate acts are
    extortion and blackmail, one of the most successful applications of the RICO laws has been the ability to indict and or sanction individuals for their behavior and actions committed against witnesses and victims in alleged retaliation or retribution for cooperating with federal law enforcement or intelligence agencies.
    Violations of the RICO laws can be alleged in civil lawsuit cases or for criminal charges. In these instances, charges can be brought against individuals or corporations in retaliation for said individuals or corporations working with law enforcement. Further, charges can also be brought against individuals or corporations who have sued or filed criminal charges against a defendant.
    Anti-SLAPP (
    strategic lawsuit against public participation) laws can be applied in an attempt to curb alleged abuses of the legal system by individuals or corporations who use the courts as a weapon to retaliate against whistle blowers or victims or to silence another's speech. RICO could be alleged if it can be shown that lawyers and/or their clients conspired and collaborated to concoct fictitious legal complaints solely in retribution and retaliation for themselves having been brought before the courts.
    Although the RICO laws may cover drug trafficking crimes in addition to other more traditional RICO predicate acts such as extortion, blackmail, and racketeering, large-scale and organized drug networks are now commonly prosecuted under the
    Continuing Criminal Enterprise Statute, also known as the "Kingpin Statute". The CCE laws target only traffickers who are responsible for long-term and elaborate conspiracies, whereas the RICO law covers a variety of organized criminal behaviors.[8]

    In April 2000, federal judge William J. Rea in Los Angeles, ruling in one Rampart scandal case, said that the plaintiffs could pursue RICO claims against the LAPD, an unprecedented finding. The idea that a police organization could be characterized as a racketeering enterprise shook up City Hall and further damaged the already-tarnished image of the LAPD. However, in July 2001, US District Judge Gary A. Feess said that the plaintiffs do not have standing to sue the LAPD under RICO because they are alleging personal injuries rather than economic or property damage.[24]

    1. 18 U.S. Code § 1962(c); see also Criminal RICO Prosecutors Manual, elaborating that "A Defendant May Be Liable for a RICO Conspiracy Offense Even if the Defendant Did Not Participate In the Operation or Management of the Enterprise"
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    Code Corruption