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Racketeering and RICO violations: What do these charges involve?

A RICO violation or racketeering offense relates to involvement in an organized group engaged in criminal behavior.

Normally, when we think of a RICO violation, we think of organized crime and the mafia, but RICO can cover much more than that.

What is the RICO act?

The federal government, through the FBI, often targets suspected illegal businesses, or "rackets," in its criminal investigations. To imbue the FBI and federal prosecutors with more power and authority to bring rackets and their leaders to justice, Congress passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1978, also known as "RICO."

Before RICO, prosecutors had trouble bringing the leaders of criminal organizations to justice. They could convict the individual actors of the various crimes they committed, however, they could not convict the people at the head of criminal organizations who, individually, had not done anything specifically wrong. With the passage of the RICO Act, prosecutors had the legal tools they needed to accuse and convict the "masterminds" behind organized criminal activities.

To prove that someone has violated the RICO Act, federal prosecutors must prove that:

  1. The accused person either managed or owned an organization.
  2. The organization was regularly engaged in illegal activity.

Some view RICO to be a controversial law

Controversy continues to surround the RICO Act, which was originally created to bring down famous crime rings. This is mainly because of the way prosecutors have used RICO to target various groups -- like Catholic Church clergymen and pro-life activists -- that are not organized crime rings, but may have engaged in illegal behavior.

The Catholic Church used RICO against a group of clergymen who colluded to allow priests to sexually abuse children. Also, pro-life activists faced RICO charges after they conspired to block abortion clinic entrances.

Learn about RICO and your legal right to a criminal defense

RICO and racketeering charges are serious and -- if they lead to a conviction -- you could spend many years behind bars. As such, you will want to develop a focused and well-planned criminal defense if you've been accused of such crimes. The first step in this process is to fully understand the law, the charges being brought against you and the unique facts of your case.

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