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The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act 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.
|An Act relating to the control of organized crime in the United States
|Organized Crime Control Act of 1970
|the 91st United States Congress
|October 15, 1970
|Statutes at Large
|84 Stat. 922-3 aka 84 Stat. 941
|18 U.S.C.: Crimes and Criminal Procedure
|U.S.C. sections created
|18 U.S.C. §§ 1961–1968
|United States Supreme Court cases
This article primarily covers the federal criminal statute, but since 1972, 33 U.S. states and territories have adopted state RICO laws, which although similar, cover additional state crimes and may differ from the federal law and each other in several respects.
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 L. McClellan.
It was signed into law by US President Richard Nixon. Prosecutors in the 1970s used it to prosecute the Mafia as well as others who were actively engaged in organized crime. In later years prosecutors have applied the law more broadly.
Since 1972, 33 states have adopted state RICO laws. This article deals primarily with the federal act.
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 eight 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."
A US Attorney who indicts someone under RICO has the option of seeking a pre-trial restraining order or an injunction to temporarily seize a defendant's assets and prevent the transfer of potentially forfeitable property as well as to require the defendant to put up a performance bond. An injunction or performance bond ensures that there is something to seize in the event of a guilty verdict.
This provision prevented the owners of Mafia-related shell corporations from absconding with assets. 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.
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
- acquired or maintained an interest in, or control of, the enterprise through the pattern of racketeering activity (subsection (b)); or
- conducted or participated in the affairs of the enterprise "through" the pattern of racketeering activity (subsection (c)); or
- conspired to do one of the above (subsection (d)).
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.
A civil RICO action can be filed in state or federal court.
Although its primary intent was to deal with organized crime, Blakey said that Congress never intended it merely to 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."
On December 1, 1977, the federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Louisiana indicted thirteen defendants, Robert J. L'Hoste & Company, Inc. for conspiracy and racketeering activity. After the defendants moved to dismiss the indictment for overbreadth and vagueness, the grand jury returned a superseding indictment on February 27, 1978, charging the same offenses and naming eleven defendants, including the appellants. The district court denied a motion to dismiss the superseding indictment, and the first RICO trial commenced on March 13, 1978. The jury convicted the four appellants and another corporation on both the conspiracy and racketeering counts.
In May 1979, prosecutor Mark L. Webb, Northern District of California, conducted RICO trial, United States v. Sam Bailey Gang. The successful prosecution used the RICO statute to allege that a gang of postal burglars and a Nevada fence collaborated criminally in an organized crime fashion. The case did not involve a Mafia crime family.
Subsequently, the US Attorney´s office for the Eastern District of Arkansas used the RICO Act on October 2, 1978, to indict officers of Local 1292 of the Laborers International Union of North America. Special Assistant United States Attorney, Samuel A. Perroni, prosecuted the first labor union official trial that began on June 5, 1979. Perroni´s successful prosecution used RICO to convict the defendants of conspiracy, murder for hire, perjury and embezzlement of union property in United States v. Allison, et al.
The US Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York employed the RICO Act in September 18, 1979, in United States v. Scotto. Scotto, who was convicted on charges of racketeering, accepting unlawful labor payments, and income tax evasion, headed the International Longshoremen's Association.
During the 1980s and the 1990s, federal prosecutors used the law to bring charges against several Mafia figures. In 1985, United States Attorney Rudy Giuliani (who would be indicted under Georgia RICO laws in August 2023;) indicted 11 organized crime figures in United States v. Anthony Salerno, et al, also known as Mafia Commission Trial. Using the RICO Act, Giuliani charged the heads of New York's so-called "Five Families" with extortion, labor racketeering, and murder for hire.
Three Assistant United States Attorneys assisted in the trial: Michael Chertoff, the eventual second United States Secretary of Homeland Security and co-author of the Patriot Act; John Savarese, later a partner at Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz; and Gil Childers, a later deputy chief of the criminal division for the Southern District of New York and later managing director in the legal department at Goldman Sachs.
Time magazine called the "Case of Cases" possibly "the most significant assault on the infrastructure of organized crime since the high command of the Chicago Mafia was swept away in 1943" and quoted Giuliani's stated intention: "Our approach is to wipe out the five families."
Three heads of the Five Families were sentenced to 100 years in prison on January 13, 1987. The Genovese and Colombo leaders, Tony Salerno and Carmine Persico received additional sentences in separate trials, with 70-year and 39-year sentences to run consecutively. The Gambino crime family boss Paul Castellano and his underboss, Thomas Bilotti, were murdered on the streets of Midtown Manhattan on December 16, 1985.
RICO predicate offenses
- Any violation of state statutes against gambling, murder, kidnapping, extortion, arson, robbery, bribery, dealing in obscene matter, or dealing in a controlled substance or listed chemical (as defined in the Controlled Substances Act);
- Any act of bribery, counterfeiting, theft, embezzlement, fraud, dealing in obscene matter, obstruction of justice, slavery, racketeering, gambling, money laundering, commission of murder-for-hire, and many other offenses covered under the Federal criminal code (Title 18);
- Embezzlement of union funds;
- Bankruptcy fraud or securities fraud;
- Drug trafficking; long-term and elaborate drug networks can also be prosecuted using the Continuing Criminal Enterprise Statute;
- Criminal copyright infringement;
- Money laundering and related offenses;
- Bringing in, aiding or assisting aliens in illegally entering the country (if the action was for financial gain);
- Acts of terrorism.
Pattern of racketeering activity requires at least two acts of racketeering activity, one of which occurred after the effective date of this chapter and the last of which occurred within ten years (excluding any period of imprisonment) after the commission of a prior act of racketeering activity. The US Supreme Court has instructed federal courts to follow the continuity-plus-relationship test in order to determine whether the facts of a specific case give rise to an established pattern. The illegal acts forming a pattern are called "predicate" offenses. Predicate acts are related if they "have the same or similar purposes, results, participants, victims, or methods of commission, or otherwise are interrelated by distinguishing characteristics and are not isolated events." Continuity is both a closed and open ended concept, referring to either a closed period of conduct, or to past conduct that by its nature projects into the future with a threat of repetition.
The Lucchese crime family was one of the "Five Families" that dominated organized crime activities in New York City. Prosecuting attorneys Gregory O'Connell and Charles Rose used RICO charges to break up the family over an 18-month period.
Several members of the Latin Kings have been convicted of RICO offenses.
In April 2000, federal judge William J. Rea in Los Angeles, ruling in one Rampart scandal case, said that the plaintiffs could pursue RICO claims against the LAPD, an unprecedented finding. In July 2001, US District Judge Gary A. Feess said that the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue the LAPD under RICO, because they were alleging personal injuries rather than economic or property damage.
1978, The Cowboy Mafia
RICO was instrumental in indicting members of The Cowboy Mafia from Texas, Tennessee and Florida. During 1977 and 1978, this group imported over 106 tons of marijuana. Using the shrimp boats Agnes Pauline, Monkey, Jubilee, and Bayou Blues, the group made six trips from Colombia to Texas. The group was arrested in 1978 after the federal government seized the Agnes Pauline when they were unloading their cargo in Port Arthur, Texas. In 1979, twenty-six members of the smuggling ring were convicted. Charles "Muscles" Foster, a ranch foreman and the head of the operation, pleaded innocent by reason of insanity and was acquitted in 1980. In August 1981, Rex Cauble was indicted by a grand jury, as the government believed he was the financial backer of the smugglers. Foster was the foreman for his ranches, and the drugs were transported to Cauble's ranches throughout Texas. Cauble was a multi-millionaire, the former chairman of the Texas Aeronautics Commission, and an honorary Texas Ranger. He was also the owner of Cutter Bill, a famous cutting horse. Cauble was convicted in January 1982 on ten counts: two counts of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act statute (RICO), conspiracy to violate RICO, three violations of the Interstate Commerce Travel Act, and four counts of misapplication of bank funds. He was sentenced to ten concurrent terms of five years. He completed his prison term, was released in September 1987, and died in 2003.
Three books about the group were published: The Cowboy Mafia (2003) by Cauble's personal jet pilot Roy Graham; Catching the Katy (2017) by Barker Milford; and A Conspiracy Revealed by DEA agent Daniel Wedeman, Sr.
As a result of the RICO conviction, Cauble forfeited his 31% interest in Cauble Enterprises, including two Cutter Bill Western World stores, three Texas banks (Western State Bank in Denton, Dallas International Bank and South Main Bank of Houston), six ranches, a welding supply company, and oil and gas holdings. The company's worth was estimated at $80 million. However, the government sold their interest back to the other partners (Cauble's wife and son) for an estimated $12 million.
1979, Hells Angels Motorcycle Club
In 1979, the United States Federal Government went after Sonny Barger and several members and associates of the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels using RICO. In United States vs. Barger, the prosecution team attempted to demonstrate a pattern of behavior to convict Barger and other members of the club of RICO offenses related to guns and illegal drugs. The jury acquitted Barger on the RICO charges with a hung jury on the predicate acts: "There was no proof it was part of club policy, and as much as they tried, the government could not come up with any incriminating minutes from any of our meetings mentioning drugs and guns."
1980, Gil Dozier
In 1980, Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Gil Dozier was charged with violating both Hobbs and RICO laws. The Baton Rouge-based United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana accused Dozier of compelling companies doing business with his department to make campaign contributions on his behalf. On September 23, 1980, a jury convicted Dozier of five counts of extortion and racketeering.
The judge sentenced Dozier to 10 years imprisonment which was later upgraded to 18 years when other offenses were determined. A $25,000 fine was suspended pending appeal, and Dozier remained free on bail. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans upheld Dozier's conviction. He eventually served nearly four years until a presidential commutation freed him in 1986.
1984, Key West Police Department
Around June 1984, the Key West Police Department located in Monroe County, Florida, was declared a criminal enterprise under the federal RICO statutes after a lengthy United States Department of Justice investigation. Several high-ranking officers of the department, including Deputy Police Chief Raymond Cassamayor, were arrested on federal charges of running a protection racket for illegal cocaine smugglers. At trial, a witness testified he routinely delivered bags of cocaine to the Deputy Chief's office at City Hall.
1989, Michael Milken
On March 29, 1989, American financier Michael Milken was indicted on 98 counts of racketeering and fraud relating to an investigation into an allegation of insider trading and other offenses. Milken was accused of using a wide-ranging network of contacts to manipulate stock and bond prices. It was one of the first occasions that a RICO indictment was brought against an individual with no ties to organized crime. Milken pleaded guilty to six lesser felonies of securities fraud and tax evasion, rather than risk spending the rest of his life in prison and ended up serving 22 months in prison. Milken was also ordered banned for life from the securities industry.
On September 7, 1988, Milken's employer, Drexel Burnham Lambert, was threatened with RICO charges under respondeat superior, the legal doctrine that corporations are responsible for their employees' crimes. Drexel avoided RICO charges by entering an Alford plea to lesser felonies of stock parking and stock manipulation. In a carefully worded plea, Drexel said it was "not in a position to dispute the allegations" made by the Government. If Drexel had been indicted under RICO statutes, it would have had to post a performance bond of up to $1 billion to avoid having its assets frozen. That would have taken precedence over all of the firm's other obligations, including the loans that provided 96 percent of its capital base. If the bond ever had to be paid, its shareholders would have been practically wiped out. Since banks will not extend credit to a firm indicted under RICO, an indictment would have likely put Drexel out of business. By at least one estimate, a RICO indictment would have destroyed the firm within a month. Years later, Drexel President and CEO Fred Joseph said that Drexel had no choice but to plead guilty because "a financial institution cannot survive a RICO indictment."
1992, Gambino crime family
2002, Major League Baseball
In 2001, Major League Baseball team owners voted to eliminate two teams, presumably the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos. In 2002, the former minority owners of the Expos filed charges under the RICO Act against MLB commissioner Bud Selig and former Expos owner Jeffrey Loria, claiming that Selig and Loria deliberately conspired to devalue the team for personal benefit in preparation for a move. If found liable, Major League Baseball could have been responsible for up to $300 million in punitive damages. The case lasted two years, successfully stalling the Expos' move to Washington or contraction during that time. It was eventually sent to arbitration, where the arbiters ruled in favor of Major League Baseball, permitting the move to Washington to take place.
2004, Bonanno crime family
Bonanno crime family boss Joseph Massino's trial began on May 24, 2004, with judge Nicholas Garaufis presiding and Greg D. Andres and Robert Henoch heading the prosecution. Massino faced 11 RICO counts for seven murders (due to the prospect of prosecutors seeking the death penalty for the murder of Bonanno caporegime Gerlando Sciascia, that case severed to be tried separately), arson, extortion, loansharking, illegal gambling, and money laundering. After deliberating for five days, the jury found Massino guilty of all 11 counts on July 30, 2004. His sentencing was initially scheduled for October 12, and he was expected to receive a sentence of life imprisonment with no possibility of parole. The jury also approved the prosecutors' recommended $10 million forfeiture of the proceeds of his reign as Bonanno boss on the day of the verdict.
Immediately after his July 30 conviction, as court was adjourned, Massino requested a meeting with Judge Garaufis, where he made his first offer to cooperate. He did so in hopes of sparing his life; he was facing the death penalty if found guilty of Sciascia's murder. Indeed, one of John Ashcroft's final acts as Attorney General was to order federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for Massino. Massino thus stood to be the first Mafia boss to be executed for his crimes, and the first mob boss to face the death penalty since Lepke Buchalter was executed in 1944. Massino was the first sitting boss of a New York crime family to turn state's evidence, and the second in the history of the American Mafia to do so (Philadelphia crime family boss Ralph Natale had flipped in 1999 when facing drug charges).
2005, Chicago Outfit
In 2005, the US Department of Justice's Operation Family Secrets indicted 14 Chicago Outfit (also known as the Outfit, the Chicago Mafia, the Chicago Mob, or the Organization) members and associates under RICO predicates. Five defendants were convicted of RICO violations and other crimes. Six pleaded guilty, two died before trial, and one was too sick to be tried.
2005, Connecticut Senator Len Fasano
2005, Mohawk Industries
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Williams v. Mohawk Industries, Inc. No. 05-465, 547 U.S. 516 (2006) that a corporation could be held liable for "unlawfully conducting the affairs of an association-in-fact enterprise comprised of the corporation and its agents." Mohawk Industries had allegedly hired illegal aliens, in violation of RICO. On appeal, the Supreme Court was asked to decide whether Mohawk Industries, along with recruiting agencies, constituted an "enterprise" that could be prosecuted under RICO. The Court vacated the Eleventh Circuit decision that had permitted RICO liability.
2006, Gambino crime family
In Tampa, on October 16, 2006, four members of the Gambino crime family (Capo Ronald Trucchio, Terry Scaglione, Steven Catallono, and Anthony Mucciarone and associate Kevin McMahon) were tried under RICO statutes, found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison.
2009, Scott W. Rothstein
Scott W. Rothstein is a disbarred lawyer and the former managing shareholder, chairman, and chief executive officer of the now-defunct Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler law firm. He was accused of funding his philanthropy, political contributions, law firm salaries, and an extravagant lifestyle with a massive 1.2 billion dollar Ponzi scheme. On December 1, 2009, Rothstein turned himself in to federal authorities and was subsequently arrested on charges related to RICO. Although his arraignment plea was not guilty, Rothstein cooperated with the government and reversed his plea to guilty of five federal crimes on January 27, 2010. Bond was denied by US Magistrate Judge Robin Rosenbaum, who ruled that due to his ability to forge documents, he was considered a flight risk. On June 9, 2010, Rothstein received a 50-year prison sentence after a hearing in federal court in Fort Lauderdale.
2011, Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella
A federal grand jury in the Middle District of Pennsylvania handed down a 48-count indictment against former Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella. The judges were charged with RICO after allegedly committing acts of mail and wire fraud, tax evasion, money laundering, and honest services fraud. The judges were accused of taking kickbacks for housing juveniles, that the judges convicted of mostly petty crimes, at a private detention center. The incident was dubbed by many local and national newspapers as the "kids for cash scandal". On February 18, 2011, a federal jury found Mark Ciavarella guilty of racketeering because of his involvement in accepting illegal payments from Robert Mericle, the developer of PA Child Care, and Attorney Robert Powell, a co-owner of the facility. Ciavarella is facing 38 other counts in federal court.
Eleven defendants were indicted on RICO charges for allegedly assisting AccessHealthSource, a local health care provider, in obtaining and maintaining lucrative contracts with local and state government entities in the city of El Paso, Texas, "through bribery of and kickbacks to elected officials or himself and others, extortion under color of authority, fraudulent schemes and artifices, false pretenses, promises and representations and deprivation of the right of citizens to the honest services of their elected local officials" (see indictment).
2013, Trump University
Art Cohen vs. Donald J. Trump was a civil RICO class action suit filed October 18, 2013, accusing Donald Trump of misrepresenting Trump University "to make tens of millions of dollars" but delivering "neither Donald Trump nor a university". The case was being heard in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in San Diego, No. 3:2013cv02519, by Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel. It was scheduled for argument beginning November 28, 2016. However, on November 18 and shortly after Trump won the presidential election, this case and two others were settled for a total of $25 million to be paid to the plaintiffs, but without any admission of wrongdoing by Trump.
2015, Drummond Company
In 2015, the Drummond Company sued attorneys Terrence P. Collingsworth and William R. Scherer, the advocacy group International Rights Advocates (IRAdvocates), and Dutch businessman Albert van Bilderbeek, one of the owners of Llanos Oil, accusing them of violating RICO by alleging that Drummond had worked alongside Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia to murder labor union leaders within proximity of their Colombian coal mines, which Drummond denies.
Fourteen defendants affiliated with FIFA were indicted under the RICO act on 47 counts for "racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies, among other offenses, in connection with the defendants' participation in a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer". The defendants include many current and former high-ranking officers of FIFA and its affiliate CONCACAF. The defendants had allegedly used the enterprise as a front to collect millions of dollars in bribes, which may have influenced Russia and Qatar's winning bids to host the FIFA World Cup in 2018 and 2022, respectively.
2023, Donald Trump
In August 2023, the District Attorney of Fulton County, Georgia, Fani Willis, filed charges under the Georgia state RICO act against Donald Trump and parties involved, including Rudy Giuliani. The Georgia law contains a list of 40 state crimes or acts that together can be classified as "racketeering schemes". It is broader than the federal law in that attempting, soliciting, coercing, and intimidating another person to commit any of the offenses can also be considered organized crime.
Application of RICO laws
This section possibly contains original research. (August 2009)
Although some of the RICO predicate acts are extortion and blackmail, one of the most successful applications of the RICO laws has been the ability to indict and or sanction individuals for their behavior and actions committed against witnesses and victims in alleged retaliation or retribution for cooperating with federal law enforcement or intelligence agencies.
Violations of the RICO laws can be alleged in civil lawsuit cases or for criminal charges. In these instances, charges can be brought against individuals or corporations in retaliation for said individuals or corporations working with law enforcement. Further, charges can also be brought against individuals or corporations who have sued or filed criminal charges against a defendant.
Anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) laws can be applied in an attempt to curb alleged abuses of the legal system by individuals or corporations who use the courts as a weapon to retaliate against whistle blowers or victims or to silence another's speech. RICO could be alleged if it can be shown that lawyers or their clients conspired and collaborated to concoct fictitious legal complaints solely in retribution and retaliation for themselves having been brought before the courts.
Although the RICO laws may cover drug trafficking crimes in addition to other more traditional RICO predicate acts such as extortion, blackmail, and racketeering, large-scale and organized drug networks are now commonly prosecuted under the Continuing Criminal Enterprise Statute, also known as the "Kingpin Statute". The CCE laws target only traffickers who are responsible for long-term and elaborate conspiracies, whereas the RICO law covers a variety of organized criminal behaviors.
The RICO statute contains a provision that allows for the commencement of a civil action by a private party to recover damages sustained as a result of the commission of a RICO predicate offense.