You may be like many other Ohio residents in that when you hear about the "RICO Act," you envision mobsters and their organized crime syndicates. It is true that the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (passed by Congress in 1978) began as a way to get to higher ranking officials in mob organizations who weren't actually "on the ground" committing the crimes.
Historically, state and federal agencies used the RICO Act to deal with obviously illegal activities such as trafficking of drugs, weapons and people, along with counterfeiting and prostitution. Later, when these types of activities no longer provided the same anonymity and profits, the mob moved into more traditionally white-collar criminal activities, and state and federal law enforcement officials used the RICO Act to prosecute for these crimes as well.
What exactly is the RICO Act, then?
The RICO Act allows prosecutors to target "rackets." The law defines a racket as an organized group of individuals who use legitimate organizations for the purpose of embezzling funds or running illegal businesses. It makes everyone in the group culpable for criminal activity regardless of whether each individual directly participated in a criminal act.
In order to prosecute someone under the RICO Act who did not directly participate in criminal activity, the following elements must be present:
- The individual in question manages or owns a racket.
- The racket routinely engages in one or more specific criminal activities.
Without these elements, prosecutors may not meet the stringent burden of proof that an individual is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt under the Act.
The RICO Act is clouded in controversy
In recent years, the government has used the Act to prosecute members of the Catholic Church for allegedly allowing priests to participate in child molestation and members of pro-life organizations for keeping people from entering abortion clinics.
Many people view the use of the Act in these types of cases as overreaching on the part of state and federal law enforcement agencies. This makes it a controversial and problematic method for prosecuting individuals. After all, anytime a group of people gets together, there is a danger that this law could be used to attempt to shut down activities that may not be illegal.
Are you facing investigation under the RICO Act?
If you discover that you are part of an investigation under the RICO Act, you would be wise to enlist the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. You do not have to wait until you face arrest and charges to protect your rights and begin building a defense.