In July, a California state senator was indicted on charges that he ran a “cash for votes” scheme. According to Breitbart, the legislator conspired with political consultants to take contributions from corporations and promise legislative action in return. For example, he is charged with accepting $60,000 from the owner of a National Football League team in exchange for voting a certain way on a bill concerning athletic workers’ compensation.
Racketeering is just one of the charges the senator faces, and the prosecution is pursuing the case under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The act allows courts to hand down substantial criminal penalties to those found guilty. Since RICO’s enactment in 1970, roughly 30 states, including Minnesota, have passed supplemental legislation to the act.
The federal government passed RICO in an effort to battle organized crime. Racketeering specifically refers to a type of criminal activity that will benefit a crime syndicate and can include charges such as the following:
- Money laundering or loan sharking
- Illegal gambling
- Extortion or bribery
- Obstruction of justice
- Murder, kidnapping or gambling
While the intention of RICO was to target organized crime, the U.S. Department of Justice acknowledges that the act is broad enough to encompass white collar crime or any other illegal activity that would affect international or foreign commerce.
How it is used
In order to convict someone under RICO, the government must be able to prove that the defendant participated in at least two activities that are considered racketeering, or they must prove that the defendant owns or manages an organization that participates in such illegal activity.
It is possible to bring RICO charges in both civil and criminal cases. For example, a gun mogul’s ex-wife has filed a civil lawsuit against him, alleging money laundering, racketeering and thieving. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that the suit invokes RICO and seeks as much as $500 million in damages.
Penalties associated with RICO
Someone who is indicted on just one RICO charge for activities such as fraud could receive as much as 20 years in prison. If the act is a charge that carries a more significant penalty, such as murder, then it is possible the person could spend life in jail. Fines for RICO convictions may be either up to $250,000 or up to twice the amount of the proceeds of the offense.
The National Criminal Justice Reference Service points out that people guilty under RICO are also subject to property forfeiture. For example, an executive who has been convicted of defrauding a corporation’s customers may have to forfeit stockholdings. Anyone with questions regarding RICO should consult with a criminal defense attorney.