Federal Racketeering, RICO Act Charges

Federal Racketeering, RICO Act Charges

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, also known as the “RICO Act” or “RICO,” is federal law passed by Congress in 1970 with the declared purpose of eradicating organized crime in the United States. 18 U.S.C. Chapter 96. The RICO Act allows for both criminal prosecution and civil penalties for racketeering activity performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization.

Prohibited Activities Under The RICO Act

The RICO Act prohibits operating, establishing, or acquiring an enterprise that derives income through illegal means, maintaining or acquiring an interest in or control of an enterprise through illegal activity, and using an enterprise to commit illegal acts. 18 U.S.C. § 1962.

RICO makes it a federal crime for any person who is associated with an enterprise that is engaged in or affects interstate or foreign commerce, “to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such enterprise’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity or collection of unlawful debt.” 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c).


Under the federal statute, an “enterprise” is defined as including “any individual, partnership, corporation, association, or other legal entity, and any union or group of individuals associated in fact although not a legal entity.” 18 U.S.C.A. §  1961(4).

“Racketeering Activity”

The RICO definition of “racketeering activity” includes a lengthy list of state and federal crimes. “Racketeering Activity” means any act involving murder, kidnapping, gambling, arson, robbery, bribery, extortion, drug dealing, which is chargeable under State law and punishable by imprisonment for more than a year; or any act which is indictable under enumerated federal statutes, including bribery, money laundering, murder for hire, certain financial crimes, various fraud offenses, and other listed federal offenses. 18 U.S.C. §1961(1).

“Pattern of Racketeering Activity”

Under RICO a “pattern of racketeering activity” is “at least two acts of racketeering activity, one of which occurred after the effective date of this chapter and the last of which occurred within ten years (excluding any period of imprisonment) after the commission of a prior act of racketeering activity.” 18 U.S.C. § 1961(5). A pattern of racketeering activity requires at least two acts of racketeering activity, as defined by the code, within ten years of each other.

The RICO Act does not criminalize engaging in a pattern of racketeering activity standing alone; it criminalizes the conduct of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity.

Federal Racketeering, RICO Act Charges

In order to prove a RICO violation, the Government must prove the following elements:

  • The existence of an enterprise which affects interstate or foreign commerce;
  • That the defendant “associated with” (or was employed by) the enterprise;
  • That the defendant participated in the conduct of the enterprise’s affairs; and
  • That the participation was through a pattern of racketeering activity, i. e., by committing at least two acts of racketeering activity designated in 18 U.S.C.A. § 1961(1).

United States v. Phillips, 664 F. 2d 971, 1011 (5th Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 457 U.S. 1136, citing United States v. Bright, 630 F.2d 804, 829 (5th Cir. 1980).

The prosecutor must prove all four elements beyond a reasonable doubt to be able to secure a guilty verdict at trial.

However, the government does not need to prove that the defendant had full knowledge of all of the details of the conspiracy, or that the defendant knew all of the other conspirators. The government must show (1) that the defendant agree to commit the substantive racketeering offense through agreeing to participate in two predicate acts; (2) that the defendant know the general nature of the conspiracy; and (3) that the conspiracy extends beyond his [or her] individual role. United States v. Rastelli, 870 F. 2d 822, 828 (2d Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 982.

Defending Against RICO Charges

The fact is, the RICO Act gives prosecutors broad authority to bring RICO charges. If you are being investigated for, or have been charged with, a RICO Act violation contact us immediately. Our firm specializes in white collar criminal defense cases, successfully representing corporate and individual clients in federal and state criminal matters.

Ashley D. Adams, PLC provides aggressive, strategic representation to our clients in order to limit exposure to harsh criminal penalties. Contact us or call now (480) 219-1366 for a case evaluation. Have your questions answered and obtain the peace of mind that comes from having a former Assistant U.S. Attorney on your side.

Recently, Ashley D. Adams was selected by The National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 in Criminal Defense and as one of Arizona’s Finest Lawyers.

Ashley serves as the American Bar Association’s co-chair for the Southwest Region’s Subcommittee on White Collar Crime. She is an active member of the ABA’s Health Care Fraud Subcommittee. Ashley has had the honor of being selected as one of Arizona’s Best Lawyers and Southwest’s Super Lawyers for seven years running.


The attorneys at Ashley D. Adams, PLC handle state criminal cases throughout Arizona and federal criminal cases throughout the United States, including Arizona, Oklahoma, Utah, and California.