Variety of Criminal Activity
Since organized crime can encompass many different types of crimes, RICO laws have been written so they pertain to many types of criminal offenses. Under RICO, individuals cannot establish, operate, or acquire an enterprise with income that was obtained illegally. In addition, they cannot acquire or maintain control of an enterprise through illegal activity, nor can they use any type of enterprise to commit illegal acts. By having RICO laws at their disposal, prosecutors are in a much better position to bring charges against organized crime bosses, since these laws essentially eliminate the defendant being able to claim plausible deniability.
Crimes and Charges
Though there are numerous state laws that make many types of criminal enterprises illegal, it has been the RICO laws that have allowed law enforcement and prosecutors to eliminate criminal empires that often reach across multiple jurisdictions. As for which crimes fall under RICO, three of the most common include bribery, blackmail, and extortion. In addition, businesses and organizations used as fronts for organized crime activities can also be prosecuted under RICO. Examples of this can include bars that serve as fronts for illegal gambling operations, massage parlors that are really illegal brothels, and construction companies or other businesses that are created mainly for the purpose of money laundering.
Punishments for Racketeering
When a defendant is convicted of racketeering, RICO offers much leeway regarding the punishments for various crimes. If a defendant is sentenced to prison, their sentence is not allowed to exceed 20 years. In addition, any property obtained as a result of illegal activity must be forfeited. Finally, if fines are part of the sentence, they are not allowed to exceed more than twice the amount of proceeds obtained through the defendant’s illegal activities.
Considered some of the most strict and harsh in criminal law, sentencing guidelines for racketeering are aimed at making sure a strong message is sent to other members of organized crime. For example, even though 20 years is generally the maximum prison sentence in most cases, a life sentence may be imposed if any underlying activities associated with the racketeering have this option. Also, should the court not be able to locate property obtained illegally, it can order the defendant to forfeit any or all of their remaining property.
Statute of Limitations
In most racketeering cases, the statute of limitations is a somewhat short five years. Under Title 18 of the U.S. Code, no individual is allowed to be prosecuted, put on trial, or punished for non-capital offenses unless done so within five years. However, since criminal cases that involve racketeering are often very complex and involve many different types of criminal activities, it is often found these activities are in fact not protected by the short statute of limitations found in Title 18. When this occurs, prosecutors can sometimes bring charges against heads of organized crime empires decades later if necessary.
Taking Hold in Communities
Though found mostly in large cities across the United States, organized crime can in fact take hold almost anywhere. In fact, many businesses used as fronts for organized crime activities are often found in smaller cities, since this can make them appear less conspicuous to authorities. Because of this, many organized crime organizations have been able to operate for decades before prosecutors can gather enough evidence to bring charges under RICO. However, as laws such as RICO have now criminalized income generated to sustain these organizations, authorities are much better able to bust up these groups and make many high-level arrests, as was the case with the well-known mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger in Boston.