The Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organization Act, commonly referred to as RICO, has been used liberally since it was enacted in 1970. The purpose of this federal law is to make criminal organizations illegal and give prosecutors another way to attack groups of individuals or businesses that continuously perpetuate crime. However, it is possible for you to be charged under RICO if the prosecutors falsely believe you to be involved in a criminal organization. When this occurs, you face much harsher penalties than if you were merely charged with a crime as an individual under Texas law.
If you are facing RICO charges, you need an experienced federal attorney who can defend you in federal court. Ned Barnett has 30 years of experience, beginning as a prosecutor and then defending individuals like you in both state and federal courtrooms. He understands the serious nature of RICO charges and will build the best defense possible for you under the law. Call Houston RICO attorney Ned Barnett at (713) 222-6767 to schedule a free, confidential consultation.
What is RICO?
Chapter 96 of the U.S. criminal code defines the prohibited activities under RICO and the criminal penalties associated with these crimes. Section 1962 states it is illegal for anyone who has directly or indirectly received income from a pattern of racketeering or through the collection of unlawful debt to directly or indirectly invest any part of that income or proceeds of that income in the acquisition of interest, establishment, or operation of any enterprise engaged in activities that affect interstate or foreign commerce. Next, it is illegal for any person through a pattern of racketeering or collection of an unlawful debt to acquire or maintain any interest in or control of an enterprise engaged in activities that affect interstate or foreign commerce. It is also unlawful for any person employed by or associated with an enterprise engaged in activities that affect interstate or foreign commerce to conduct or participate in the enterprise’s affairs.
RICO clearly covers a great many activities and individuals who may participate in a criminal organization at any level. It is greatly concerned with criminal conduct affecting commerce that crosses state lines. The buying, selling, and transportation of goods and services across state lines is what makes the crime federal and not merely a single state issue. Additionally, while RICO can be used to prosecute someone in charge of a criminal organization or who makes decisions to commit crimes, it can also be used to try and prosecute someone low on the totem pole who is unaware of the criminal nature of the enterprise’s actions. It is an intentionally expansive law.
You Can be Charged with Conspiracy Under RICO
Section 1962(d) states it is unlawful for anyone to conspire to violate any other subsection of the law. This means if you are involved in any discussion of activity that would violate RICO, you could be charged with a federal crime. The prosecutors do not have to prove that you agreed to the activity, that you knew all the other conspirators, or that you knew all of the details of the conspiracy. You can be found guilty of a crime even with minimal involvement in a so-called conspiracy.
Important Definitions in RICO
RICO defines both racketeering activity and a pattern of racketeering activity. Knowing these terms is crucial to understanding any RICO charges brought against you. Examples of common racketeering activity include the act or threat of:
- Sports bribery
- Dealing in obscene materials
- Dealing in a controlled substance or certain chemicals
- Theft of interstate shipments
- Certain embezzlement crimes
- Certain fraud crimes
- Obstructing state or local law enforcement
- Tampering with or retaliating against a witness, victim, or enforcement
A pattern of racketeering activity means participating in at least two racketeering acts, the last of which must have occurred within the 10 years of the prior activity.
It is important to understand how the law views an “enterprise.” You may think an enterprise must be a legal entity, like a corporation. However, under the law, an enterprise has a broad definition. It may be any individual, partnership, corporation, association, or other legal entity, and any union or group of individuals associated in fact although not a legal entity.
Possible Penalties & Collateral Consequences
Punishments under RICO can be harsh because the government wants to make it difficult for organizations to continue a pattern of crime. If you are found guilty of any section of RICO, you can be imprisoned for up to 20 years or for life in prison, if the racketeering activity you were involved in allows for a maximum penalty of life. You give up any interest, security, or rights in an organization that violated RICO.
Your personal property is also subject to criminal forfeiture. If the government believes you obtained homes, furniture, vehicles, jewelry and other personal items through a criminal organization, all of this could be forfeited to the government. You could lose all or a significant portion of your possessions.
A person or business hurt by your RICO violations can bring charges against you seeking civil remedies. If you are found guilty, you may have to pay treble damages – meaning three times what the person or business lost – and attorney’s fees.
If you are currently facing criminal charges under the RICO statute, you should speak to Ned Barnett about your potential civil liability. You may have to defend yourself on two different fronts.
It is possible to defend yourself against RICO charges. You and your attorney may seek to prove that you were not a member of the criminal enterprise. This can be difficult if you were a member of a group or employed by a business that has been found guilty of illegal activity. But it is not impossible. If you were part of a group but not part of the crime, your Houston RICO attorney will try and show that you had no knowledge of any criminal agenda or specific criminal conduct. As your lawyer, Ned Barnett will attempt to prove to the court that you were an upstanding citizen, going to work or attending meetings on a good faith basis – not to be part of or progress any criminal agenda.
Contact Houston RICO Attorney Ned Barnett for Help
If you are facing RICO charges as an individual or business, you need an attorney right away. Ned Barnett has decades of experience defending people against all types of criminal offenses, including unlawful activities under RICO. You should not show up to court with a well-meaning but inexperienced lawyer who has not attempted to argue a RICO case before. You want someone like Barnett who can show you years of legal knowledge and a track record of success.
To learn how Barnett can help you, call The Law Offices of Ned Barnett at (713) 222-6767 and schedule a consultation.