The legal system has found creative methods of combating criminal organizations in decades past, and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) was one of the best. It made it easier to charge and convict members of such organizations and levy extreme sentences, even if there was no direct involvement in the worst crimes committed. Of course, the burden of proof is on the prosecution, and the prosecution must meet high standards to achieve a conviction.
Racketeering occurs when criminals plan or organize their activities. The usual template for these activities falls under the umbrella of a larger business which may or may not have genuine business activity. In most cases, a criminal will create an imagined problem, and then offer his services to unwilling consumers in order to “fix” that problem. These days, a racket is any illegal organized operation.
The RICO Act was passed in 1970 in order to target members of racketeering operations. It is a federal law under which prosecutors are able to target the entirety of organizations accused of crimes like money laundering, counterfeiting, embezzlement, or more extreme crimes like kidnapping, murder, and drug and human trafficking.
Someone might be convicted under RICO if prosecutors can prove the individual was part of at least two instances of racketeering. In addition, the individual must have directly invested in the organization. The key to convicting someone under the RICO Act is the effect of those crimes on the interstate or foreign commerce. If the prosecution can prove that the criminal activities affected commerce, then the final nail is pounded into the coffin.
An individual charged under the RICO Act could be imprisoned for up to twenty years, unless one of the charges under the umbrella of Rico would have already demanded life. If one stands accused of murder, for example, then that individual can expect to spend his life behind bars. The charge could also lead to a $250,000 fine. Although these penalties are strict, those prosecuted under the RICO Act could easily land more time because they are usually charged on multiple counts.