What is the RICO Statute?
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) refers to a portion of the Organized Crime Control Act created in 1970 to prosecute mafia members who engage in a specified pattern of crime called “racketeering.”
An example of how it works: a new legitimate business sets up shop and the perpetrators would then offer to provide the business owner “protection” or some other type of service for a problem that really does not exist. However, the “con” occurs due to the fact that it is the perpetrators themselves who inflict harm, so in effect it’s like saying “pay us not to hurt you or destroy your business.” As a US federal law, RICO’s primary focus is upon crimes of this type, which was instituted by Congress under the Richard Nixon Administration.
A very broad and far-reaching act, RICO covers a lot of ground: "Racketeering activity” means any act or threat involving murder, kidnapping, gambling, arson, robbery, bribery, extortion, dealing in obscene matter, or dealing in a controlled substance or listed chemical (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act), which is chargeable under State law and punishable by imprisonment for more than one year..." This extends to include copyright infringement, trafficking of persons, weapons of any kind, even biological or chemical. Welfare fraud, smuggling people into the U.S., counterfeiting, hit contracts, and transporting stolen property are also included. Anything you can think of is fair game and something else is always being added. (18 USC 1961, Cornell University Law School)
In the beginning, it was only applied to prosecute mafia cases. Today, even corporations, terrorist organizations, political groups, and individuals are indicted under RICO.
To gain a RICO conviction, prosecutors have to prove a minimum of 2 situations where the statue applies. The defendant must have been either a direct participant (financial or otherwise) or gained profit from criminal activity influencing interstate or international commerce.
Noteworthy RICO Cases:
John Gotti - Gambino Crime Family Head caught a RICO case which included murder predicated on wire-taped information in which he discussed essential mob business from his apartment. Some negative things he said about Sammy the Bull Gravano were also recorded, and the Feds put it to good use by letting Gravano hear what was said on the tapes. Gravano decided to save his own hide and turned rat. Gotti was convicted in 1992 and got life without possibility of parole while Sammy the Bull received a sentence of 5 years, even while he confessed to 19 murders over a 20 year period.
Michael Milken - AKA "The Junk Bond King." Received a 10-year sentence for securities fraud. He is the first person indicted under RICO as an individual without any links to organized crime. Milken ended up only serving 22 months because he ratted out a couple of colleagues. As of 2012, this guy is worth roughly $2.3 billion. Forbes Magazine listed him as the 488th richest person in the world in 2010.
Other famous RICO cases include Major League Baseball, Latin Kings and Hell's Angels.
Sources Used for this Article:
Cornell University Law School: Legal Information Institute
The FBI: The Comprehensive Reference Guide
FBI.GOV: "John Gotti: How We Made the Charges Stick"
© 2013 Aunice Yvonne Reed