Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act

Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act
Great Seal of the United States
Long titleAn Act relating to the control of organized crime in the United States
Acronyms (colloquial)
  • OCCA
  • RICO
NicknamesOrganized Crime Control Act of 1970
Enacted bythe 91-452
Statutes at Large84 922-3 aka 84 Stat. 941
Codification
Titles amended18 U.S.C.: Crimes and Criminal Procedure
U.S.C. sections created1968
Legislative history

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 (91–452, 84 922, enacted October 15, 1970) and is codified at ch. 96 as 1968. 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.

Summary

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 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.