Because of movies and television shows, a RICO crime is usually associated only to mobsters, corrupt unions and violent activities. But RICO, shorthand for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, also covers many types of criminal conspiracy including economic and cybercrimes.

Racketeering generally concerns federal crimes committed through extortion or coercion such as gambling, kidnapping, murder and bribery. Under the law, racketeers may also offer a dishonest service to fix a problem that did not exist or which they caused. Convicted racketeers may face 20 years imprisonment and fines up to $25,000.

Extortion can take place in many ways. Examples include:

  • A criminal organization threatens to damage a person’s property if they do not pay a protection fee.
  • Protection rackets offer security to business that are committing crimes such as running illegal financial scams or offering unsecured loans.
  • A corporation manufacturing drugs bribing doctors to over-prescribe a drug which constitutes fraud on insurance companies.
  • A hacker committing cyber extortion by pushing malware onto a user’s computer and then demands money to restore access.

RICO was enacted into law 50 years ago to control racketeering. A person may be charged under RICO if they committed at least two racketeering acts within ten years. RICO applies to 27 federal and 8 state racketeering offenses.

Like other federal crimes, a RICO conviction can have devastating consequences involving incarceration and fines. States may seek heavier criminal penalties by prosecuting a crime under RICO.

Even if the person did not directly commit the crime, they may face prosecution by dealing with the person who directly committed the offense. RICO defendants do not have to agree with every other conspirator, knew all the conspirators or even knew all of the conspiracy’s details, according to the US Department of Justice.

Under RICO, prosecutors may seize the assets of the indicted party which can block the transfer of funds and property through shell companies. Prosecutors may charge organizations or groups or individuals for up to 20 years of illegal activity for each racketeering count.

Leaders of organizations may be charged for activities that they ordered others to commit. The law provides for a liberal interpretation of an organization.

RICO was originally used against mobsters. It use has been expanded since 1970:

  • In 2018, counties in Kansas and Missouri filed federal racketeering cases against manufacturers of opioids painkillers for misrepresenting the dangers of addiction. Similar lawsuits were filed in Alabama, Massachusetts, Mississippi and Pennsylvania.
  • Officials of the Federation Internationale de Football were indicted on charges involving bribes and kickbacks paid to obtain media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments.
  • State Farm paid $250 million in 2015 to settle RICO charges involving allegations that it channeled campaign contributions to a judge through advocacy groups that did not disclose donors. This related to litigation by its policy holders who claimed that they were given substandard auto parts for over 10 years.

RICO investigations may be wide-raging and devastating. Seeing legal representation as soon as possible can help protect a person’s rights.