Understanding RICO Charges in Brooklyn Organized Crime Cases

Understanding RICO Charges in Brooklyn Organized Crime Cases

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) is a federal law designed to combat organized crime. RICO charges allow prosecutors to go after the leaders and money men behind criminal organizations like the mafia and gangs. These charges have become an important tool for taking down major crime rings in places like Brooklyn.So what exactly are RICO charges and how do they work? Let’s break it down.

What is RICO?

RICO was passed by Congress in 1970 to give law enforcement more power to go after the bosses and kingpins of organized crime . The idea is to attack the whole criminal organization, not just individual members and crimes.Prosecutors can charge RICO violations when they can show a pattern of illegal activity by an organization over a period of 10 years or more. This allows them to take down groups engaged in all kinds of crimes – from murder and drug trafficking to fraud, extortion, gambling, and more .Some key things to know about RICO:

  • Allows prosecutors to go after the leaders who order others to commit crimes
  • Broad definition of “racketeering activity”
  • Harsh criminal penalties and forfeiture provisions

So RICO gives law enforcement a big stick to take swings at criminal organizations. But how does it actually work?

Using RICO Against the Mob and Gangs

Federal prosecutors have had major success using RICO charges against the mafia and other criminal organizations in places like New York .In the 1980s and 90s, RICO was instrumental in taking down the “Five Families” of the New York mafia. It allowed prosecutors to attack the leadership structure and money-making operations of entire mob families. Instead of prosecuting soldiers for individual murders and crimes, they could go after the dons orchestrating it all.More recently, RICO has been used against violent street gangs involved in drug trafficking. Prosecutors will work to show gangs have an organized structure and chain of command. Then they can take down entire sets of gangs like MS-13 or the Bloods by targeting kingpins and shot callers .

Elements of a RICO Charge

To bring RICO charges, prosecutors need to prove a few key elements :

  • Enterprise – the organized criminal group like a mob family or gang
  • Pattern of racketeering – committing at least two crimes from a list of RICO offenses over 10 years
  • The crimes, aka “predicate acts” were committed to further the enterprise’s goals or operations
  • Defendants played a role in operating or managing the enterprise

The last part is key. RICO charges are meant to take down the leadership and shot callers, not the low level criminals and associates.Proving these elements requires solid investigation and surveillance. Prosecutors will use informants, wiretaps, financial records, and other evidence to build their case.

Penalties for RICO Charges

The penalties for RICO charges are severe :

  • Up to 20 years in prison per racketeering count
  • Forfeiture of assets connected with the criminal activity
  • Fines up to $25,000 per count

And because multiple RICO counts can be charged, sentences can add up to life in prison for convictions. The threat of long prison time gives prosecutors major leverage in persuading defendants to accept plea deals and cooperate against higher-ups.

RICO in Action: Colombo Crime Family Cases

Let’s look at some real life examples of RICO charges taking down organized crime rings in Brooklyn :In 2011, over 100 members and associates of the Colombo crime family were arrested in a major takedown. It included charges of murder, extortion, and drug trafficking. By attacking the leadership and crippling operations, this devastated the family and reduced its power.Another case involved the underboss of the Colombo family who ordered people killed while running operations from prison. He was convicted under RICO and sentenced to life behind bars .These cases show how RICO gives law enforcement firepower to dismantle organized crime from top to bottom. It lets them bypass soldiers to strike at the shot callers and kingpins pulling the strings.

RICO Charges Also Used in Corruption, Fraud Cases

While created to battle organized crime, RICO charges have also been brought in major corruption and fraud cases :

  • Wall Street financial crimes
  • Police corruption rings
  • Child sex abuse coverups
  • Terrorist organizations

So RICO can be adapted to dismantle any criminal enterprise or conspiracy. This makes it a versatile tool for prosecutors.

Controversies Around RICO Laws

The broad powers of RICO have caused controversy as well. Critics argue it gives prosecutors too much leverage in forcing plea bargains . The high stakes lead many defendants to cooperate even if they have a good defense.There are also worries RICO tools meant for mob kingpins are now used against low level drug dealers and gang members. Laws intended for mafia dons can seem overly harsh when applied more broadly.Reform advocates say more oversight is needed on RICO prosecutions. Supporters counter it remains vital to crushing dangerous organized crime outfits terrorizing communities.

Getting Help Fighting RICO Charges

Facing RICO charges is extremely serious, but fighting back is possible, especially getting experienced legal help early on. Top criminal lawyers can carefully analyze the prosecution’s case for weaknesses.In some cases, they may negotiate plea deals if the evidence is strong. Other times, they can file motions attacking the RICO charges if prosecution overreached. And at trial, skilled lawyers can raise doubts around elements like the “enterprise”, connection of crimes, defendant’s role, and more.So don’t go it alone against RICO charges in organized crime cases. Get guidance from a top Brooklyn criminal attorney familiar with these complex laws. The right legal strategy can make a major difference in the outcome of your case.