Most people are not able to readily articulate exactly what racketeering is. However, virtually everyone has seen racketeering in action in mafia movies, on the news, and in TV shows that depict organized crime rings. Racketeering is the offering of a dishonest service for the purpose of solving a problem that is specifically created by a criminal enterprise that offers the service. A simple example of racketeering would be a window repair shop that hires local criminals to break town residents’ windows to increase demand.
In addition to organized crime groups, less organized businesses in Naples, Fort Lauderdale or elsewhere in Broward County often are defendants in these types of cases. And unless those business owners retain an experienced RICO or racketeering defense lawyer, they likely will be powerless against aggressive prosecutors trying to punish them with decades in prison.
The many forms of RICO / racketeering
The Racketeer Influenced or Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act is the federal statute under which racketeering charges are brought against people. Racketeering may take place in many forms. Activities that are commonly involved include:
Do not say anything that might incriminate you. Speak with an attorney first.
Double trouble: It’s illegal at the state and federal levels
In addition to being punishable under federal law, racketeering is illegal in the Sunshine State. The Florida Penal Code prohibits individuals who have benefited from racketeering or the collection of unlawful debt with criminal intent to use the money to invest or purchase an interest in real property or a business. Florida law also prohibits a person from being employed by, associating with, conspiring to participate in activity that falls within the pattern of racketeering or collection of illegal debt.
How the government conducts these investigations
RICO investigations begin in a variety of ways, depending on the activities that are involved. A group that engages in money laundering might trigger alerts with financial institutions, which are required to report suspicious activity to the federal government. Local law enforcement may investigate what appears to be isolated crimes and learn they are all connected as part of a single criminal enterprise. Corporations may report internal instances of fraud and embezzlement to law enforcement. How the scheme is discovered depends on the variables in each case.
Investigators seek patterns
A single criminal act that occurs in isolation is not likely to trigger a racketeering investigation. However, federal investigators are likely to take interest if there is a pattern of racketeering, or two or more acts that comprise racketeering. The acts are similar in nature in that they have common purposes, result, victims, accomplices, methods of commission, or other distinguishing characteristics that indicate the racketeering acts are not isolated. In addition to being related, the acts must also suggest a threat of continued criminal activity.
State and federal penalties
Federal prosecution under the RICO statute may result in a prison sentence of up to 25 years and/or a fine of $25,000 in addition to turning over the proceeds of the illegal activity. The individual may also be convicted and sentenced for offenses that arise out of any other related criminal activity the individual may have participated in to further the racketeering scheme. Individuals who did not carry out racketeering activities, but intended to may be charged for conspiracy to violate the RICO statute. Under Florida law, racketeering may be charged as a First Degree Felony, which may carry a sentence of up to 30 years imprisonment with fines. Victims of racketeering may sue racketeering defendants in civil court, where the defendant may be ordered to pay up to three times the cost of damages if the plaintiff prevails.
Proving federal RICO
Obtaining a conviction under the federal RICO statute can be very difficult for prosecutors. First the government must prove the defendant committed a crime that served as the basis for the RICO allegation. Therefore, prosecutors must first establish all the elements of the original crime. Next, prosecutors must show that the original crime was part of a pattern that constituted the greater offense of racketeering. Because the government is required to prove so many elements of a “crime within a crime,” defense attorneys have multiple points of attack when building a case for their clients.
Defenses against racketeering
There are several approaches a lawyer may take in defending his or her client against a racketeering charge. In some cases, an individual may be employed by a criminal enterprise without awareness of the group’s activities. For example, a salesman who is responsible for selling tires may not know the owners of the tire shop are threatening their competitors with violence and slashing tire on cars in an effort to dominate the local market. The salesman’s attorney would argue he was unaware that his job was part of a pattern of racketeering activities, and he lacked the intent to participate in the criminal activity and benefit from its proceeds. A defendant who knowingly committed a criminal act may be able to avoid additional charges by arguing the act was not related to the alleged pattern of racketeering activities. An experienced Naples or Ft Lauderdale RICO defense lawyer can evaluate the facts of an accused person’s case and determine the best way to approach defending the individual.
Retain a RICO defense lawyer
Individuals who have been accused of a RICO violation in the Naples, Fort Lauderdale or elsewhere in Broward County should contact a Florida RICO defense attorney immediately. Racketeering cases are complex and may result in criminal charges at the state and federal levels in addition to civil liability. Federal prosecutors and law enforcement agencies investigate RICO cases very aggressively and thoroughly. Therefore, individuals who believe they may be under preliminary investigation as well as those who have witnessed racketeering activity and are unsure how to proceed to avoid liability should contact an established, trustworthy law firm like Joffe Law, P.A. Upon contacting one of our attorneys, we will ask questions about the facts of the case. The defense lawyer will review the information to evaluate the case and speak with the individual to discuss viable legal options. RICO charges may result in very severe sentencing; therefore, contacting a lawyer early in the investigation process can help the accused protect his or her rights.