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27 Nov 23

Understanding RICO Conspiracy Charges in Federal Court in New York

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Last Updated on: 5th December 2023, 12:23 am

Understanding RICO Conspiracy Charges in Federal Court in New York

Being charged with a RICO conspiracy in federal court in New York can be scary. But with some basic understanding of the law, you can better deal with the situation.

What is RICO?

RICO stands for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. It’s a federal law that provides for extended penalties for criminal acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization like the mafia. RICO laws aim to combat organized crime by focusing on patterns of criminal activity.

RICO makes it illegal to:

  • Be employed by or associated with an enterprise engaged in racketeering
  • Acquire or maintain an interest in an enterprise through racketeering
  • Conduct or participate in the affairs of an enterprise through racketeering
  • Conspire to do any of the above

An “enterprise” under RICO can be any individual, partnership, corporation, association, or other legal entity. “Racketeering activity” includes a wide range of state and federal crimes like bribery, money laundering, murder, kidnapping, arson, drug trafficking, gambling and extortion.

What is a RICO Conspiracy?

A RICO conspiracy charge means you’re accused of agreeing with others to violate RICO. To prove a RICO conspiracy, prosecutors must show:

  • There was an agreement between two or more people
  • To commit a substantive RICO offense
  • You knew about and intentionally joined in the agreement

The alleged conspirators don’t have to actually succeed in committing the planned offenses. Just the agreement itself is the conspiracy crime. This makes RICO conspiracy charges broad and easier to prove than other crimes.

Penalties for RICO Conspiracy

RICO conspiracy charges carry stiff penalties. The maximum sentence is up to 20 years in prison per racketeering count, up to $250,000 in fines, plus forfeiture of any ill-gotten gains from the criminal activity.

The racketeering penalties are added on top of the penalties for the alleged underlying crimes. So you could face even longer sentences if convicted of a RICO conspiracy.

Notable RICO Cases in New York

Federal prosecutors in New York’s Southern District have aggressively pursued RICO charges against high-profile defendants like:

  • John Gotti – the notorious Gambino crime family boss convicted in 1992 of five murders, conspiracy to commit murder, loansharking, illegal gambling, obstruction of justice, bribery and tax evasion.
  • Peter Gotti – head of the Gambino family after John Gotti, convicted in 2003 of racketeering, extortion and money laundering.
  • Vincent Gigante – boss of the Genovese crime family, convicted in 1997 of murder conspiracy and labor racketeering.
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These mob bosses faced RICO charges for running their crime families like criminal enterprises. Other notable defendants include Wall Street inside traders and motorcycle gangs.

Defenses Against RICO Conspiracy

Fighting RICO conspiracy charges involves attacking the prosecution’s evidence. Possible defenses include:

  • No agreement – Argue the defendants acted independently, not as part of a conspiracy.
  • No pattern – Attack the alleged pattern of racketeering activity as too sporadic or disconnected to show an enterprise.
  • No intent – Claim you didn’t know about or intend to join in the conspiracy.
  • Statute of limitations – Argue the alleged conspiracy occurred beyond the five-year statute of limitations.

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can evaluate whether these or other defenses might work in your case.

Why Federal Prosecutors Use RICO

Federal prosecutors like charging RICO conspiracies because:

  • RICO allows them to link many defendants together in one case.
  • The pattern requirement lets them use evidence from decades of activity.
  • Harsh RICO penalties encourage defendants to accept plea bargains.
  • Asset forfeiture provisions let them seize property.
  • The law helps them disrupt ongoing criminal organizations.

For these reasons, expect federal prosecutors to continue using RICO charges against suspected organized crime, gangs, insider traders and other groups.

Get Experienced Legal Help

Facing RICO conspiracy charges in New York federal court is daunting. But an experienced criminal defense lawyer can thoroughly evaluate the evidence, identify weaknesses, and build the strongest defense. A skilled attorney may also be able to negotiate a plea bargain to lesser charges in appropriate cases.

Don’t go it alone against complex RICO accusations. Get experienced legal help fighting these charges.

References

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