Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act is a federal law that provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil course of action for various acts of ongoing criminal organizations. This paper explains various aspects of the RICO.
Brief History of RICO
Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) was adopted in 1970 and it was intended to destroy the Mafia. As a result, a long string of mob bosses that had been once considered untouchable were convicted and incarcerated for various offences. In 1980s, the civil lawyers discovered that a certain section of the act applied not only to the wide range of federal and state criminal acts, but also to civil violations whether by members of organized crime or by lawful businesses. Better yet, any person who became successive in establishing a civil RICO claim would automatically receive judgment in the amount of three times more than the actual damages. Due to this, the attorneys started to depict almost any civil wrong flowing from criminal activity as inducing them to file a civil RICO action. The civil actions involving common law fraud, product defect, and breach of contract as well as those civil wrongs flowing from the crimes of mail and wire fraud were common examples that prompted the attorneys to initiate a law suit. The congress made the act relatively easy to enforce by lowering the standards of proof required to seize assets, allowing for substantial amounts of money to be forfeited. In 1990s, the federal courts, guided by the Supreme Court slowed down the number of civil law suits that were allowed under the RICO. Today, it is not easy to bring a civil action under the RICO statute, and the statute is very seldom brought against the Mafia bosses and their underlings. It is applied in almost any context to individuals, political protest groups, and terrorist organizations (Goldman & Sigismond, 2011).
Necessary Elements for the RICO Prosecution
For the RICO prosecution, the government must prove first that the charged is engaged in: (1) a pattern of, (2) racketeering activity, only insofar as (3) an enterprise involved, as defined in the Constitution. Under Section 1961 (1), racketeering activity is any of the listed criminal acts whereby the common ones are called predicate acts. Crimes that fall within the scope of predicate acts include any offense involving fraud connected with the Bankruptcy Code. Racketeering activity involving property in bankruptcy cases includes: fraudulent transfer or concealment of property, improper offer and receipt of property, concealment, destruction, or alteration of information relating to the property; and misappropriation of property by the trustee or other officer of the court who can access the property (Wickouski, 2007).
Other crimes that constitute predicate acts related to a bankruptcy case are: making a false oath or account in or in relation to such a case; making a false declaration or statement; or presenting, or using any false claim for proof against the state of a debtor. A pattern of racketeering activity is defined as a commission of at least two predicate acts within a period of ten years, the first having to be committed after the effective statute’s date. The acts must be separate, and no pattern found when a single act constitutes more than one criminal violation. The federal courts have generally found that any two separate predicate acts, such as two separate mailings, which are directly or indirectly related, may constitute a pattern of such racketing activity. If there are similarities between the acts with respect to the victim, methodology, goal etc., and there is some evidence of the threat of continuation of such activity, those acts may constitute a pattern even though they may be simultaneous (Wickouski, 2007).
Finally, the pattern of racketeering activity must be conducted by or related to an enterprise. The term ‘enterprise’ is defined by the statute to include individuals, association, corporation, partnership or any legal entity, or group of individuals associated in fact, although not being a legal entity. The enterprise must also affect the interstate commerce. The concept of enterprise focuses on a group of people. Therefore, to prove the existence of an enterprise, the government must first establish that an entity exists with a common purpose of engaging in a course of conduct. This includes also legitimate business. Second, the government must show that the various associates function as a continuing unit. Next, there must be a clear relationship between the pattern of racketeering activity and the enterprise, generally requiring that the facilities and services of the enterprise were used to coordinate the existence of the pattern of racketeering activity and the enterprise (Wickouski, 2007).
Under the law, racketeering acts mean extortion, bribery, arson, loan defaulting, illegal drug sales, kidnapping, prostitution, interstate transportation of stolen properties, embezzlement of union’s funds, mail fraud, wire fraud, infiltration of legitimate business, money laundering and acts of terrorism. The violation of the RICO laws can be alleged in cases where criminal charges or civil law suits are brought against individuals in retaliation for said individuals working with the law enforcement agencies that have sued or filed criminal charges against defendants. The United States’ legislation has other equivalents in the rest of the world. In spite of the Interpol’s having a standardized definition of RICO-related crimes, the interpretation and national implementation of the legislation varies widely. Most countries do cooperate with the United States on the RICO enforcement only when their own related laws are specifically broken, but this is in line with the Interpol protocol for such issues (Olsen, 2010).