Before 1970, the U.S. government was mainly powerless to combat organized crime leaders because they could not directly connect them to specific criminal actions. However, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act changed that. Once the RICO Act was implemented, it gave federal prosecutors a powerful tool to charge members of an organization with crimes that they did not commit themselves. Law enforcement has since used RICO to dismantle criminal organizations like the Mafia and states, including North Carolina have enacted similar laws to prosecute ongoing criminal enterprises, from street gangs to corrupt business entities.
Sometimes the mere threat of a RICO indictment can turn someone’s life upside down. If you’re dealing with possible RICO charges, you’ll be confronted with shockingly harsh penalties and a highly technical legal process. The underlying crime you’re accused of can range from money laundering, murder, drug trafficking, and white collar offenses like fraud, but if you’ve been implicated in an ongoing criminal conspiracy, contact a skilled RICO lawyer immediately.
At Randall & Stump, PLLC, we can help you understand your rights, the charges you face, and potential defense strategies that may be available. Our Charlotte federal lawyers have extensive experience handling all manner of racketeering cases in state and federal courts throughout North Carolina.
Widespread Use of the RICO Act?
While it was initially enacted to combat the Mafia, the later application of RICO has been much more widespread. Instead of strictly pursuing organizations that were formed for criminal purposes, now RICO is used against individuals that the government believes are engaging in a pattern of criminality as a member of an ongoing enterprise. The language in the federal RICO statute is relatively vague and lists 35 possible offenses, including, but not limited to:
- Drug Crimes
- Money Laundering
- Illegal Gambling
- Witness Tampering
- Securities Violations
- Tax Evasion
With so many possible underlying crimes, it’s easy to understand how this law can be applied to various circumstances. For example, in 1994 the United States Supreme Court found that the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN) could qualify as a RICO enterprise in a case where pro-life activists were physically blocking access to abortion clinics. Additionally, and more recently, members of the notorious street gang, known as ‘the Bloods’ were charged in a Charlotte federal court for allegedly running an organized-crime network from their prison cells in New York that reached to the Carolinas, even though they were far from the actual crimes. Despite the distance, the allegations involved at least six killings, an extensive drug and weapons trade, as well as bank fraud and other white-collar offenses. The RICO Act allowed federal prosecutors to take down many high-level “bosses” of the Bloods located outside of North Carolina, when ordinarily, there would have been no options to do so.
Regardless of the specific crimes in question, if you face RICO-related charges, you need to act quickly to get sound legal advice and a tough defense that protects your rights.
Racketeering/RICO Charges in North Carolina
As you can see, the RICO Act can be used by prosecutors to fight street crimes and white collar crime. The government could use RICO to indict a leader of an organized crime family for murders that took place under his order, just as easily as it could indict a CEO of a corporation for stock manipulation. The key in any RICO-related charge in North Carolina (NCGS § 75D-3)
is the government’s ability to prove that the accused committed the required acts under the statute and in a pattern of racketeering activity.
The pattern of racketeering activity and what is considered an enterprise is loosely defined under the law. Prosecutors only need to show that they engaged in two or more instances of racketeering activity, and that the defendant directly invested in, maintained an interest in, or participated in a criminal enterprise. Essentially, if someone participates in a crime for the enterprise’s preservation or gain, anyone involved can fall under a RICO violation. Furthermore, it can be a rather informal group or unit with no formal structure or hierarchy. But, as long as they come together for criminality, this meets the standard for RICO.
Racketeering/RICO Act Penalties
Convictions under RICO carry stiff sentences, including up to 20 years in prison and $25,000 in fines for each RICO violation. This is also outside of any penalties for the underlying/predicated offenses. This makes RICO an extremely persuasive tool for prosecutors to use as leverage because they may rack up multiple RICO counts against a single individual. Aside from fines and time in custody, a racketeering sentence can also result in the forfeiture of any funds or property acquired by criminal activity. Not to mention, you can be found liable for civil penalties from the criminal enterprise if people suffered financial damages.
Defending Against RICO/Racketeering Charges
The government may be using RICO to bring very complicated and serious charges against multiple individuals, forcing people into a position where they are compelled to cooperate. This can be extremely stressful because judges and juries typically have little sympathy for a defendant charged under RICO. That’s why it is imperative to work with a veteran RICO lawyer, who can meticulously evaluate the government’s case and highlight the errors that may be the difference in your situation.
Keep in mind that every case is different with unique characteristics, but since a RICO violation requires that you meet certain criteria, our priority will be to attack the merits of the prosecutor’s argument. If we can show that your situation actually fails to meet that standard, your attorney may be able to secure a dismissal, a more appropriate charge for a lesser offense, or other favorable outcomes.
We will review all the available evidence, and if your actions were not criminal, we will strive to have the case dismissed. Next, the prosecution will need to make a clear connection to the other supposed members of the criminal organization. Law enforcement cannot merely say you were a member of a gang or a group that committed a crime. If your relationship with the other people can be discredited, our legal team will raise this issue. Finally, our RICO attorneys can present an argument that the activity in question was not on-going. This can become significantly more involved than suggesting that you only committed a single act, but with an experienced attorney, you can refute the claims against you and work towards the best possible resolution.