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Should white-collar crime defendants worry about the RICO Act?

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, is a federal law used to prosecute individuals connected to an enterprise that engages in racketeering activities that may affect interstate commerce. 

The RICO Act was created in 1970 to combat organized crime groups (Mafia, etc.) that engaged in illegal business practices, like drug distribution or gambling. In the 21st century, RICO also frequently plays a role in white-collar cases.

What penalties could you face?

If convicted on racketeering charges, a federal judge could order you to spend up to 20 years in a federal prison. You can also expect to face expensive fines, possibly millions, and the forfeiture of assets associated with the illegal activity.

Examples of white-collar crimes that could lead to RICO charges include:

  • Wire fraud
  • Mail fraud
  • Money laundering
  • Bribery
  • Obstruction of justice

If you hear the prosecutor in your case mention racketeering, take immediate steps to account for possible RICO charges in your defense.

How can you defend against RICO?

RICO charges are not easy to prove as they require high levels of evidence, coordination with the government and often multiple defendants or witnesses. Two of the biggest challenges prosecutors face are:

  • #1. Proving the “pattern of racketeering activity” prerequisite
  • #2. Proving the “enterprise” prerequisite

They must prove these and all other elements beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction.

Under legal guidance, you may be able to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case by arguing that they failed to prove one or more elements necessary for a RICO conviction.

Remember, Louisiana has its own racketeering laws. When researching your case, account for any differences between state and federal laws. For example, the consequences of a RICO conviction in Louisiana are sometimes more severe than those handed down in federal court.