Few crimes carry the weight and impact from just hearing the charge as RICO. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), originally passed by Congress in 1961, was targeted at giving the government and prosecutors stronger statutory and legal tools to fight and control organized crime. While closely associated in the zeitgeist with mafia investigations and prosecutions, RICO has increasingly been charged and used in the investigation and prosecution of small groups of street-level drug dealers as well as business organizations such as banking, securities, financial services and health care.
RICO is actually a collection of statutes that are aimed primarily at the financial side of “organizations committing a pattern of illegal activity.” There can be severe consequences to a RICO-related conviction, including asset forfeiture and restitution as well as up to 20 years in prison. Closely associated with RICO are conspiracy charges. Conspiracy is a similarly powerful legal tool that, like RICO, allows for a significant expansion of what kinds of evidence can be presented against the accused individual, and also expands the sphere of criminal liability from the actions of a single individual to those of all others that are allegedly a part of the conspiracy. These laws also essentially criminalize the enterprise or conspiracy itself, as opposed to actual actions, allowing for a person to be prosecuted and charged simply for the agreement to commit a crime in the future, even if that person never intended to commit that underlying crime themselves. Similarly, RICO shifts or expands the focus of a criminal prosecution from a the crime itself to the associations and relationships between people involved, things that might never be admissible in a trial for the underlying crime itself. This makes a prosecutor’s case much stronger, given the expansion of admissible evidence and broader, or at least different, scope of criminal liability, particularly in cases involving money laundering, drug trafficking, embezzlement, extortion, bribery, securities fraud, obstruction, counterfeiting, murder and murder for hire.
These complexities and expansion of criminal liability and evidence mean that retaining experienced and skilled legal representation is critical.