23. What is the “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act” (RICO)?
This law imposes criminal and civil liability upon those businesspersons who engage in certain prohibited activities that directly affect interstate commerce. The law is commonly used to impose criminal sanctions and forfeiture of resources used in furtherance of the criminal enterprise. Elements of a RICO action include:
• Involvement in an Enterprise – This may include using or investing income from prohibited activities to acquire an interest in or to operate an enterprise; acquiring or maintaining an interest in or control of an enterprise; or conducting or participating in the conduct of an enterprise while being employed by or associated with it.
• Pattern of Racketeering – Racketeering is defined as “any act or threat” involving a specified state crime or any “act” subject to indictment under various federal statutes. There must be some pattern of or recurring activity constituting racketeering.
The law makes it unlawful for any person employed by or associated with any enterprise to conduct or participate in a violation of the law. The law foresees two separate entities — person and the enterprise. Generally, employment alone is insufficient to hold someone liable under RICO.
• Discussion: Do you think this statute goes to far by allowing the government to charge individuals who are not directly involved in the criminal activity? Is the ability to reach those facilitating a criminal activity (and their assets) necessary to the administration of justice?
• Practice Question: Gloria makes a living by illegally importing cocaine into Florida from Colombia, SA. She does not have any hands on the process. Rather, she hires every part of the activity. Once the drugs arrive, she hires Terry to pack them in the trunk of a car and sends them to a distributor in New York. She hires Robert to drive the vehicle carrying the drugs. On the way, Robert is stopped and arrested by North Carolina police officers. The Federal Bureau of Investigation gets involved and traces the scheme back to Gloria. How can the FBI potentially charge Gloria for her involvement in drug trafficking?