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Defending Federal RICO Charges: An Overview for Defendants

Defending Federal RICO Charges: An Overview for Defendants

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly known as RICO, is a federal law that was originally designed to combat organized crime. Since being enacted in 1970, however, RICO has expanded far beyond its original purpose and is now frequently used by federal prosecutors in cases involving a wide range of criminal activity.For defendants, a RICO charge can be intimidating. RICO cases are often large, complex, and come with severe penalties. Successfully defending against RICO charges requires extensive experience with federal criminal law. This article provides an overview of RICO charges and strategies for defending against them.

What is RICO?

RICO makes it illegal to participate or invest in an “enterprise” through a “pattern of racketeering activity.” This requires prosecutors to prove five key elements:

  • Enterprise – The existence of an enterprise, defined broadly as any individual, partnership, corporation, association, or other entity.
  • Interstate Commerce – The enterprise engaged in or affected interstate commerce.
  • Association – The defendant was associated with or employed by the enterprise.
  • Pattern of Racketeering – The defendant engaged in at least two predicate acts of racketeering within 10 years of each other. Racketeering activities include a long list of state and federal crimes.
  • Participation – The defendant participated in the enterprise through the pattern of racketeering activity.

Why do prosecutors use RICO?

RICO provides several key advantages for prosecutors:

  • Allows charging multiple defendants who participated in the criminal enterprise, from leaders down to low-level associates.
  • Broadens scope of criminal activity by linking together seemingly unrelated crimes committed over many years.
  • Stiffer penalties – up to 20 years per racketeering count.
  • Forfeiture provisions allow seizing assets connected to criminal activity.
  • Lowers burden of proof by not requiring defendants to have direct knowledge of all aspects of the conspiracy.

Challenging a RICO Charge

While RICO may seem daunting, there are strategies criminal defense attorneys use to challenge RICO charges, including:

Dispute Enterprise or Interstate Commerce

These elements are usually easy for prosecutors to prove. But it’s worth verifying they have sufficient evidence. Look for weaknesses in proof of enterprise structure, hierarchy, organization, decision-making. Question if activities truly impacted interstate commerce.

Challenge Association

Argue the defendant was not actually associated with the enterprise, but had only insignificant, sporadic, or coerced interactions.

Attack Pattern of Racketeering

Argue the alleged predicate acts do not constitute racketeering activities under RICO. Dispute if they are sufficiently connected to each other and the enterprise to form a true pattern.

Christine Twomey
Christine Twomey
2024-03-21
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Brendan huisman
2024-03-18
Alex Zhik contacted me almost immediately when I reached out to Spodek for a consultation and was able to effectively communicate the path forward/consequences of my legal issue. I immediately agreed to hire Alex for his services and did not regret my choice. He was able to cover my case in court (with 1 day notice) and not only was he able to push my case down, he carefully negotiated a dismissal of the charge altogether. I highly recommend Spodek, and more specifically, Alex Zhik for all of your legal issues. Thanks guys!
Guerline Menard
Guerline Menard
2024-03-18
Thanks again Spodek law firm, particularly Esq Claire Banks who stood right there with us up to the finish line. Attached photos taken right outside of the court building and the smile on our faces represented victory, a breath of fresh air and satisfaction. We are very happy that this is over and we can move on with our lives. Thanks Spodek law 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙌🏼❤️
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Keisha Parris
2024-03-15
Believe every single review here about Alex Z!! From our initial consultation, it was evident that Alex possessed a profound understanding of criminal law and a fierce dedication to his clients rights. Throughout the entirety of my case, Alex exhibited unparalleled professionalism and unwavering commitment. What sets Alex apart is not only his legal expertise but also his genuine compassion for his clients. He took the time to thoroughly explain my case, alleviating any concerns I had along the way. His exact words were “I’m not worried about it”. His unwavering support and guidance were invaluable throughout the entire process. I am immensely grateful for Alex's exceptional legal representation and wholeheartedly recommend his services to anyone in need of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Alex Z is not just a lawyer; he is a beacon of hope for those navigating the complexities of the legal system. If you find yourself in need of a dedicated and competent legal advocate, look no further than Alex Z.
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2024-03-15
I don’t know where to start, I can write a novel about this firm, but one thing I will say is that having my best interest was their main priority since the beginning of my case which was back in Winter 2019. Miss Claire Banks, one of the best Attorneys in the firm represented me very well and was very professional, respectful, and truthful. Not once did she leave me in the dark, in fact she presented all options and routes that could possibly be considered for my case and she reinsured me that no matter what I decided to do, her and the team will have my back and that’s exactly what happened. Not only will I be liberated from this case, also, I will enjoy my freedom and continue to be a mother to my first born son and will have no restrictions with accomplishing my goals in life. Now that’s what I call victory!! I thank the Lord, My mother, Claire, and the Spodek team for standing by me and fighting with me. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with this team. I’m very satisfied, very pleased with their performance, their hard work, and their diligence. Thank you team!
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2024-03-12
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2024-03-12
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divesh patel
divesh patel
2024-02-24
I can't recommend Alex Zhik and Spodek Law Firm highly enough for their exceptional legal representation and personal mentorship. From the moment I engaged their services in October 2022, Alex took the time to understand my case thoroughly and provided guidance every step of the way. Alex's dedication to my case went above and beyond my expectations. His expertise, attention to detail, and commitment to achieving the best possible outcome were evident throughout the entire process. He took the time to mentor me, ensuring I understood the legal complexities involved to make informed decisions. Alex is the kind of guy you would want to have a beer with and has made a meaningful impact on me. I also want to acknowledge Todd Spodek, the leader of the firm, who played a crucial role in my case. His leadership and support bolstered the efforts of Alex, and his involvement highlighted the firm's commitment to excellence. Thanks to Alex Zhik and Todd Spodek, I achieved the outcome I desired, and I am incredibly grateful for their professionalism, expertise, and genuine care. If you're in need of legal representation, look no further than this outstanding team.

Dispute Participation

Mere association with an enterprise is not enough. The defendant must have knowingly and actively participated in the pattern of racketeering. Argue the defendant did not sufficiently participate.

Attack Credibility of Cooperators

Many RICO cases rely heavily on cooperating witnesses who testify in exchange for leniency. Vigorously challenge their credibility and motives for testifying.

Suppress Evidence

RICO cases often involve searches, wiretaps, and other investigative techniques. File suppression motions to exclude illegally obtained evidence.

Argue Lack of Criminal Intent

Prosecutors must prove the defendant knowingly agreed to participate in criminal activity. Argue the defendant did not have this criminal knowledge or intent.

Sentencing Considerations

If convicted under RICO, sentencing considerations include:

  • Racketeering counts carry up to 20 years imprisonment. Fines and restitution may also be imposed.
  • Sentences for the racketeering counts and underlying predicate offenses may run consecutively.
  • Sentencing guidelines provide a framework, but judges have discretion. Argue for downward departures.
  • Forfeiture provisions are expansive. Challenge forfeitures not sufficiently connected to criminal activity.
  • Cooperating witnesses typically receive significant sentencing reductions. Consider cooperation as a strategy.

Conclusion

Facing RICO charges is undoubtedly serious, but not an automatic conviction. Skilled criminal defense attorneys have strategies to challenge the complex elements of RICO and hold prosecutors to their burden of proof. With an in-depth understanding of RICO law and a vigorous defense, it is possible to successfully defend against federal racketeering charges.

Information Corner

Useful Resources

Example RICO Cases

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