What Is RICO Law?

By Claire Gillespie - Updated April 19, 2018
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If you're interested in the history of the Mafia in the United States, you might have heard of RICO. The full name is the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which was a groundbreaking piece of legislation passed in 1970 to try to immobilize the Mafia. However, the wide scope of RICO goes way beyond the Mafia, from corrupt police officers to motorcycle gangs.

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Any individual or corporation involved in racketeering, or organized crime, can be prosecuted under RICO, the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. To be charged with racketeering, a person must violate two of 35 statutes within 10 years, and the violations must be connected.

What Is a RICO Complaint?

Many federal and state offenses are covered by RICO law, including the crimes of homicide, extortion, robbery, arson, kidnapping and witness tampering, mail and wire fraud and financial crimes such as money laundering and counterfeiting.

If you suspect an individual or corporation of racketeering, you can file a RICO complaint in federal court, either in the district where the defendant lives or where the corporation carries out its business. RICO law governs long-term criminal activity, so a complaint must detail a pattern of racketeering, not simply a one-off event.

A RICO complaint should include the number of acts amounting to unlawful conduct, the length of time over which these acts were committed, the number of victims and the injuries caused by the acts. If a RICO complaint is based on fraud, it must also state the exact circumstances constituting the fraudulent acts, such as the time, place, content of and parties to the fraudulent communications.

What Is Racketeering?

Racketeering is when organized groups run illegal businesses, or when an organized crime ring uses legitimate organizations to embezzle funds. A racket is the organized mechanism of racketeering –the illegal business. A racketeer is someone who engages in that illegal business.

The RICO Act focuses specifically on racketeering and allows the leaders of a syndicate to be tried for the crimes they ordered others to do or assisted others in doing. For example, a person who ordered another to commit murder can be charged under Rico if the murder is linked to organized crime, even though he didn't actually commit the offense himself.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Racketeering?

While most federal crimes have a five-year statute of limitations, a 10-year statute of limitations applies to some crimes, including RICO crimes involving bank fraud. This means the government cannot file criminal charges under RICO if 10 years have passed since the commission of the offense.

About the Author

Claire is a qualified lawyer and specialized in family law before becoming a full-time writer. She has written for many digital publications, including The Washington Post, Forbes, Vice and HealthCentral.

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