Racketeering is linked to organized crime and crime syndicates, and includes crimes like extortion, loan sharking, money laundering, drug trafficking, bribery, embezzlement, counterfeiting, arson, kidnapping, and obstruction of justice. Congress passed the Organized Crime Control Act in 1970; included in the new federal law was RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, enacted in an effort to stop illegal businesses from engaging in racketeering-type activity. Kentucky is one of a majority of states that passed its own RICO laws after the U.S. laws went into effect.
Have you been charged with racketeering or RICO offenses in Lexington or anywhere in Kentucky? You need to call Dan Carman, Lexington criminal defense attorney, today. Dan has worked with defendants charged with RICO offenses, and he knows a conviction on RICO charges can result in a defendant being fined up to $25,000 and sentenced for up to 20 years in prison on each count. Call Dan at (859) 838-1415 to discuss defense against your RICO charges.
What is Racketeering?
A racket is a dishonest scheme, trick, business, or activity. Someone who engages in a racket is called a racketeer, and the activity itself is referred to as racketeering. Racketeering has probably been going on in this country since its founding, but it picked up steam in the U.S. after Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Organized crime groups and families that had been bootlegging illegal alcohol to make money had to find other ways to keep the money coming in when Prohibition ended. They began taking over legitimate businesses (through extortion, bribery, and other criminal means) to use the businesses as fronts to hide gambling rings, money laundering, transport and sale of stolen goods (like alcohol, cigarettes, gasoline, and weapons), various forms of fraud, including counterfeiting, and other lucrative criminal activity. Racketeering efforts also branched out to other crimes like kidnapping and murder to keep businesses afloat.
By the 1960s, racketeering was in full bloom in this country, and Congress was determined to control it through stronger definitions, stricter laws, heavier fines, and longer jail terms. It took nearly 20 years, beginning with Senate committee hearings in 1951, but RICO was finally passed in 1970. Now persons who are found to have engaged in an enterprise for the purpose of conducting criminal activities, and engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity in that enterprise, can be convicted under the RICO statute.
Who Can Be Accused of Racketeering?
“Organized crime” may conjure up images of Mafia activity or shady “underworld” activity found only in the darkest corners of our biggest cities, but persons from all walks of life have been accused of and convicted under the RICO statute.
One such case was brought in late 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina. There, a licensed real estate agent and a loan processor were convicted of engaging in a racketeering enterprise that included investment or securities fraud, mortgage fraud in the form of wire and bank fraud, and money laundering. They had participated in sham or inflated sales of real estate, sham work on properties, and had obtained loans under fraudulent circumstances. They face up to 70 years in prison. The case actually included 26 defendants; the remaining defendants have either already been convicted or are awaiting trial, while two of the defendants have fled the country, making them international fugitives.
Homeland Security Investigations, under the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, investigated two brothers in Chicago who had operated a counterfeit ID market for years and had ordered the murder in Mexico of former employees to keep them from starting a competing business. Following their convictions in early 2013, the brothers and a hit man third defendant may spend the rest of their lives in prison in connection with the murder.
In Texas in August of 2013, an Austin attorney was convicted of racketeering in a bribery scandal that included mail fraud and tampering with a proceeding. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison following his conviction, but has filed an appeal.
And in Florida in late 2013, an attorney was convicted of engaging in a $300 million illegal gambling operation that used a veterans’ association as a front for its activities. The attorney said he was simply giving legal advice to the organization, and is appealing his conviction.
How Is Racketeering Evidence Obtained?
Racketeering is a crime, and law enforcement is actively engaged in fighting crime. The net used to pull in persons engaged in racketeering often pulls in anyone in any way associated with any activity related to the crime.
Similar to investigations in drug conspiracy cases, law enforcement uses wiretapping and other technologies—such as hidden cameras and microphones—to gather evidence related to racketeering. Undercover agents engage in certain activities with suspected criminals to gather information needed to make a case. Persons are offered protection in exchange for their testimony against accused racketeers. In fact, WITSEC, the federal witness protection program, came into existence in part when RICO was passed, because it was frequently difficult to get witnesses to cooperate when they feared jail time or retaliation by criminals.
To prove a person engaged in a pattern of racketeering, investigators have to establish that the person participated in at least two of the following activities:
- violation of statutes that prohibit gambling, murder, kidnapping, arson, robbery, bribery, extortion, dealing in obscene matter, or dealing in a controlled substance or listed chemical
- an act of bribery, counterfeiting, theft, embezzlement, fraud, dealing in obscene matter, obstruction of justice, slavery racketeering, gambling, money laundering, murder for hire
- embezzlement of union funds
- bankruptcy or securities fraud
- drug trafficking
- money laundering and related offenses
- bringing in, aiding, or assisting aliens to illegally enter the country (if the action is for financial gain)
- acts of terrorism.
What Can Happen in a RICO Conviction?
Persons charged with racketeering often have their assets seized and may be required to obtain a performance bond to ensure there is something to seize following conviction. They may also be hit with a civil suit by anyone claiming they were harmed by the criminal activity. RICO laws allow persons filing civil suits to be awarded treble damages, or up to three times as much as they are seeking in the suit. Treble damages can also be awarded in criminal suits.
In determining sentencing for a person convicted of the crime of racketeering, the judge will consult Part E, Offenses Involving Criminal Enterprises and Racketeering, of the federal sentencing guidelines manual. Punishment tends to be severe, since each violation can result in up to 20 years’ prison time.
How Can You Defend Yourself Against RICO Charges?
If you have been accused of any crime related to racketeering, you face financial ruin and many years of incarceration. You need the services of a Kentucky racketeering lawyer like Dan Carman. Dan is a criminal defense attorney who is admitted to practice law in all courts in Kentucky, in the United States District Courts for the Eastern and Western Districts of Kentucky, and in the Sixth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals. He is also a member of the National Trial Lawyers Top 100 Trial Lawyers.
Prior to entering private practice, he served as a law clerk to Chief Judge Jennifer B. Coffman in the U.S. District Court in Lexington and as a judge advocate in the United States Marine Corps. He is a veteran of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.
Contact Dan today by calling (859) 838-1415, or contact us online. His experience in handling state and federal cases will make the difference in defending your case.