29 Sep 23

Understanding RICO Charges in Chicago: A Guide for Defendants

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Last Updated on: 1st October 2023, 08:22 am

Understanding RICO Charges in Chicago: A Guide for Defendants

Getting charged with a RICO violation can be really scary. The laws are super confusing and the penalties are harsh. But don’t worry – this guide will explain everything you need to know in simple terms so you can understand what’s happening.

What is RICO?

RICO stands for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. It’s a federal law that was passed to fight organized crime like the Mafia. The law lets prosecutors charge a whole criminal organization for crimes committed by its members[5].

To charge someone under RICO, prosecutors have to prove a pattern of racketeering activity. This means they have to show the defendant committed at least two serious crimes related to the organization within 10 years[5]. These can include murder, kidnapping, robbery, drug trafficking, bribery, extortion, and money laundering[5].

Why Are Chicago Gangs Facing RICO Charges?

In recent years, federal prosecutors have used RICO to go after violent Chicago street gangs. They claim these gangs are criminal enterprises engaging in illegal activity like drug dealing and murder[1][4].

Some examples:

  • In 2021, 13 alleged leaders of the Traveling Vice Lords were charged with RICO conspiracy for nearly 40 murders[3]
  • In 2021, members of another faction called Wicked Town were indicted under RICO for drug trafficking that led to murder[4]
  • In 2022, leaders of the Black Disciples were convicted of RICO charges related to drug trafficking, shootings, and murder[2]

By charging the whole gang, prosecutors can hold leaders and members accountable for violence even if they didn’t directly participate in the crimes[4].

What Are the Penalties for a RICO Conviction?

The penalties for a RICO conviction are harsh:

  • Up to 20 years in prison per racketeering count[5]
  • Fines up to $250,000 per count[5]
  • Forfeiture of any property obtained from racketeering activity[5]

And that’s per count – prosecutors often stack multiple RICO counts in a single indictment. So you could easily be facing decades behind bars if convicted.

What Should I Do if I’m Charged with RICO?

Don’t panic! Here are some tips:

  1. Get a lawyer ASAP. RICO cases are super complex so you need an experienced criminal defense attorney.
  2. Don’t talk to police or prosecutors without your lawyer present. Anything you say can be used against you.
  3. Your lawyer may argue the enterprise doesn’t exist or your acts weren’t related to it. They’ll scrutinize the prosecution’s evidence.
  4. Consider negotiating a plea deal to reduce charges. But be careful – plead too early and you may not know the full scope of the charges.
  5. Go to trial if necessary. The prosecution has to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Your lawyer may get charges dismissed or win a not guilty verdict.

The most important thing is keeping your mouth shut and letting your lawyer handle things. Don’t post about your case on social media – that can also be used against you.

What Are Some Common RICO Defenses?

There are a few legal defenses that can work in RICO cases:

  • You didn’t commit the predicate acts – Argue there’s no evidence you committed the alleged crimes that form the pattern of racketeering activity.
  • No enterprise exists – Argue the alleged criminal organization doesn’t exist or you weren’t associated with it.
  • Acts weren’t related to the enterprise – Argue your alleged crimes weren’t committed to benefit or further the criminal enterprise.
  • Statute of limitations expired – Racketeering charges must be brought within 5 years of the last alleged predicate act.

A skilled lawyer will analyze the prosecution’s theory and evidence to craft the best defense strategy for your case.

Can I Get the Charges Dismissed Before Trial?

Possibly. Your lawyer can file pre-trial motions asking the judge to dismiss the indictment for reasons like:

  • Lack of evidence the alleged enterprise exists
  • The predicate acts aren’t actually racketeering crimes
  • You withdrew from the conspiracy outside the statute of limitations
  • Invalid theory of racketeering activity
  • Violation of your constitutional rights

If the judge agrees, they can dismiss some or all of the RICO counts before trial. But don’t count on it – judges usually let RICO cases go to trial.

Should I Consider a Plea Bargain?

Maybe. Plea bargains are tricky in RICO cases. Prosecutors often start with harsh threats to intimidate defendants. Don’t rush into a plea too early. Wait until your lawyer gets evidence and understands the full scope of alleged criminal activity. They’ll negotiate the best deal possible.
With racketeering pleas, you’ll have to admit to facts about the enterprise and your role in it. This helps prosecutors build their case against other members. Not fun to think about ratting on your friends – but it’s better than a life sentence!

Can I Get Witness Protection If I Cooperate?

If you agree to testify against other RICO defendants, you can apply for the Witness Security Program (WITSEC). They may relocate you and give you a new identity if they determine you’re in danger for cooperating. But it’s not easy to get into WITSEC – you have to provide substantial assistance to the prosecution’s case.

Flipping on your co-defendants is risky too. If word gets out, you and your family could be in danger. Weigh the benefits and risks carefully before agreeing to cooperate.

Can My Assets Be Taken Away?

Yes, through a process called criminal forfeiture. If convicted, the government can seize any property connected to your racketeering activity including[5]:

  • Cash profits from drug sales, fraud schemes, etc.
  • Real estate purchased with racketeering profits
  • Vehicles, jewelry, electronics, etc.
  • Bank accounts, investments, retirement accounts
  • Your business if it facilitated racketeering

Some states have laws letting prosecutors seize assets before trial if they can show the assets are tied to crime. So you could lose property even if ultimately found not guilty.


Being charged with RICO is scary but not the end of the world. With an experienced criminal defense lawyer, you may be able to get charges reduced or dismissed. Don’t rush into a plea bargain or talk to police without your lawyer. Keep your mouth shut on social media too. If convicted, you’ll face long prison time and asset forfeiture – but a good lawyer can help mitigate the damage.

This guide should’ve helped you understand the basics of Chicago RICO prosecutions. But every case is different, so get professional legal advice specific to your situation. Best of luck fighting the charges – stay strong and keep your head up!