Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, is a federal law enacted in 1970. The original purpose of this was to help the police to bring mafia members to justice. It focuses on racketeering and provides tools to bring the leaders of these organizations to justice for crimes they ordered, or suggested to be committed.
The use of RICO has been greatly expanded. Defendants have been as wide and varied as Hells Angels, the Genovese crime family capo Frank Tieri, the Catholic Church for their sex abuse scandal, the Key West PD for aiding and abetting drug dealers in the 1980s, Michael Miliken and Drexel Lambert his employer, major league baseball and Pro Life Action Network. It provides a tool for dealing with any enterprise or organization, which commits a series of illegal actions as an organization. In function, lower tier members break the law to further the overall benefit of the larger enterprise, usually at the behest of the people running the organization.
There are predicate offenses, which are required for RICO to come into play. These are enumerated in USC 18 Section 1961:
There must be the commission of at least two of these activities within a span of 10 years to comprise a RICO violation.
Part of the statute allows for enhanced penalties in the event of conviction. For criminal activities it can included an extra 20 years to life (if the original crime carried a potential life sentence). It also allows for forfeiture of all gains of the criminal activity, including real estate, securities, tangible and intangible assets. For civil activities it can add treble damages to any award. These severe penalties have helped to induce several defendants to plead to lesser charges rather than face these serious criminal and civil penalties.
If you have been charged with a RICO offense, it is best to retain the services of an experienced criminal attorney to assist you with your defense.