Racketeering is defined as any sort of illegal business practice, relating to either owning and operating an illegal business or using a business to conduct illegal activity. While racketeering may have connotations to being involved in mob and gangster activity, and it is true that much of today’s racketeering legislation came about to curtail those enterprises, nowadays many different kinds of businesses are being found to be rackets. Considering that there are strict state and federal laws governing racketeering practices, it is ill-advised to go without legal representation. It’s best to hire a racketeering defense lawyer.
Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organizations Act
The US Federal Law referred to as the Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organization (RICO) Act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970. The Act’s original intent was to help combat the prominence of mafia activity in the country, which was beginning to take a strong hold over cities like New York, Chicago, and Miami. While it helped cut down on those kinds of illegal businesses, the law has since been used to hold high-ranking business officials accountable for illegal business practices such as money laundering or bribery.
In order to be charged under the federal RICO Act, a pattern of racketeering activity must be established. This pattern is typically established with two actions determined to be racketeer-influenced within a time frame of 10 years. Racketeering activity includes:
- Violation of state laws that prohibit gambling, prostitution, arson, robbery, bribery, murder, etc.
- Embezzlement of any kind, including the use of union funds
- Fraud, including bankruptcy fraud
- Drug crime, including drug trafficking
- Bringing or assisting illegal immigrants into the country for financial gain
- Any acts of terrorism
When a case is brought to the U.S. Attorney, they have the option of seeking an injunction of the business’ assets and finances. In that way, those indicted are prevented from transferring or hiding assets that could be seized during conviction. Those found guilty under federal RICO charges can face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.
Civil vs Criminal RICO Charges
The RICO Act also allows individuals the opportunity to file a civil suit against an illegal enterprise if it caused the individual to suffer damages to their property or business. The difference between the criminal and civil case is who the defendant is. In the criminal case, charges are brought against the high-ranking individuals involved in the business. In the civil case, cases are brought against the business itself. In order for a civil case to be valid, the existence of the business must be proven, which becomes complicated if the business in question is illegal. It’s important to know the distinction between the two, and that many times both cases can lead to two different sets of charges for a defendant. Both criminal and civil lawsuits allow for victims to collect three times the amount of the damages involved in the case, otherwise known as treble damages.
Florida Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Law
While RICO charges are handled in federal court, an individual or enterprise can also be tried under a state’s RICO laws. Florida has specific laws towards Racketeer businesses and individuals. The Florida RICO act specifies that it is illegal for any enterprise to receive proceeds for illegal activity, to maintain an enterprise that has a history of established racketeering activity, be involved or employed by a company for the purpose of engaging in racketeering activity, or to conspire in any racketeering activity. Moreover, the pattern of racketeering activity must be established within a 5 year period, as opposed to the federal 10 year period.
Penalties For Florida RICO Charges
Being found guilty in a Florida RICO case results in a first-degree felony, facing up to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. In place of the fine, the defendant may be required to pay treble damages to any victims of the racketeering activity.
Defending RICO Charges in Pinellas County, Florida
Due to the serious nature and severe penalties involved in state and federal RICO charges, it is unwise to go without experienced and knowledgeable legal representation. While the laws regarding racketeering are strict, there are a few defenses that can be used to help discredit the case’s validity. First, establishing an individual’s lack of knowledge in an enterprise’s racketeering activities could help distance a defendant from the enterprise’s actions. Second, since a pattern of racketeering activity must be established, undermining the validity of the pattern of racketeering could help discount the RICO charges.
Contact Pinellas Criminal Law For Your Racketeering Defense Case
At Pinellas Criminal Law, we know that if you are facing federal or state RICO charges, there is a lot at stake. The penalties for a guilty verdict are severe, and the charges can leave a permanent mark on your record that can affect your ability to find future employment. Going without strong, experienced, and knowledgeable representation is not advised. Contact out team of attorneys at Pinellas Criminal Law today!