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Racketeering and RICO Charges in Florida Explained

Racketeering and RICO Charges in Florida Explained

Racketeering and RICO charges in Florida can be pretty confusing and intimidating. As a Florida resident, it’s important to understand what these laws are, how they work, and what the consequences can be if you’re accused of violating them. This article will break it all down in simple terms so you can protect yourself.

What is Racketeering?

Racketeering refers to organized criminal activity where groups make money through illegal actions. The most common type of racketeering involves the operation of an illegal business, like drug trafficking, gambling, prostitution, or loan sharking. Racketeering can also include extortion, bribery, money laundering, and embezzlement.

Basically, racketeering is when individuals work together in an ongoing criminal organization or “enterprise” to make money illegally. The key factors are:

  • There is an enterprise or organization
  • Members of the enterprise commit crimes
  • They commit these crimes repeatedly over time (a pattern)
  • The purpose is to gain money or power

So racketeering involves continuing criminal activity by a group, not just one random illegal act.

What is the RICO Act?

RICO stands for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. This is a federal law passed in 1970 that provides for extended penalties for racketeering activities.

Florida also has its own state RICO law, which is similar to the federal version. The Florida RICO Act makes it a serious felony to participate in an enterprise through a pattern of criminal activity.

Under RICO, it’s illegal to:

  • Invest money earned illegally into a legitimate business
  • Acquire or operate a legitimate business through racketeering funds
  • Conduct the affairs of a business through racketeering
  • Conspire to commit any RICO violations

So RICO basically aims to destroy the power of organized crime operations by cracking down on patterns of illegal activities.

RICO Charges in Florida

In Florida, a RICO charge can be brought under Florida Statute 895.03. This law says it’s unlawful for any person:

  • To receive or derive income from racketeering that affects enterprise
  • To acquire or maintain any interest in/control of an enterprise through racketeering
  • To conduct or participate in an enterprise through racketeering
  • To conspire to violate any RICO provisions

To be convicted under Florida’s RICO Act, the prosecution must prove these key elements:

  • Enterprise – This is the criminal organization or group. It can be a legal entity like a business or an informal association.
  • Pattern of Racketeering – This means at least two incidents of racketeering activity that are related and continuous.
  • Intent – The defendant knowingly and intentionally participated in or conducted the affairs of the enterprise.

The definition of “racketeering activity” under Florida law is very broad. It includes a long list of crimes like fraud, theft, drug trafficking, prostitution, computer crimes, terrorism, and more.So prosecutors have a lot of flexibility in applying RICO charges. Pretty much any pattern of profit-driven criminal activity can qualify.

Penalties for RICO Violations

RICO violations are serious felonies with severe penalties in Florida. The possible sentences include:

  • Up to 30 years in prison
  • Fines up to $10,000 or three times the illegal profits
  • Asset forfeiture – Losing property connected with the criminal enterprise
  • Restrictions on future activities or employment

RICO also allows for civil lawsuits against racketeering organizations. Plaintiffs can sue for triple damages for the harm caused.

The stakes are high, so anyone facing RICO charges definitely needs an experienced criminal defense attorney. An lawyer can carefully examine the evidence and look for weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.

Examples of RICO Cases in Florida

Florida prosecutors go after all types of criminal enterprises under RICO. Here are some examples:

  • Drug trafficking rings – A group that works together to manufacture, transport, and sell illegal drugs like cocaine or heroin over an extended time.
  • Prostitution rings – A network of pimps, escorts, drivers, and bookers working together to profit from prostitution.
  • Telemarketing fraud – Scammers operating boiler rooms with high-pressure sales tactics to defraud victims.
  • Gang activity – Organized violence and drug dealing by gangs like the Latin Kings or MS-13.
  • Money laundering – Cleansing dirty money through shell companies and fake transactions.
  • Bribery schemes – Bribing officials to obtain government contracts or approvals.
  • Chop shop rings – Stealing cars and dismantling them to sell off parts.

As you can see, RICO applies to both traditional organized crime rings and white collar criminal enterprises. Prosecutors are quick to go after complex conspiracies by alleging a “pattern of racketeering activity.”

Defenses Against RICO Charges

Fighting RICO charges involves attacking the prosecution’s ability to prove each element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Here are some potential defenses:

  • No enterprise – Questioning whether the alleged criminal organization really exists.
  • No pattern – Arguing the criminal acts were isolated incidents, not an ongoing pattern.
  • No intent – Claiming you were unaware of the criminal nature of the enterprise.
  • No participation – Asserting you were not actually involved in the racketeering activities.
  • Entrapment – Alleging police improperly induced you to commit crimes.

In addition, the defense will scrutinize the prosecution’s evidence through motions to suppress. Any evidence obtained improperly may be excluded.

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can assess the prosecution’s RICO case and identify the best defense strategies. Don’t hesitate to seek legal representation if you are charged under this complex law.

Finding an Attorney for RICO Charges

Facing RICO charges in Florida is extremely serious. These complex cases require an attorney with specific experience fighting racketeering allegations.

When looking for a lawyer, be sure to ask:

  • Do they have experience defending RICO cases in Florida?
  • Are they familiar with the state and federal RICO laws?
  • Do they understand the many types of racketeering enterprises targeted?
  • Will they conduct an independent investigation of the charges?
  • Will they aggressively file pretrial motions to suppress evidence?

Don’t take chances with an inexperienced attorney against RICO allegations. The results could be devastating. Instead, take time to research and retain a lawyer who knows how to effectively fight these charges.

The Bottom Line

Racketeering and RICO refer to serious criminal organizations engaged in ongoing illegal activities. In Florida, prosecutors readily use RICO to go after complex conspiracies and take down crime rings.

These complex charges call for an attorney who understands RICO and has experience fighting these allegations. With an aggressive defense focused on the flaws of the prosecution’s case, it is possible to defeat or mitigate RICO charges.

Don’t wait to seek out knowledgeable legal representation. The sooner you can start crafting your defense against RICO allegations, the better. This maximizes the chances of avoiding lengthy prison sentences and crippling financial penalties.

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