Federal Crimes Blog

How to Defend Against Federal RICO Act Charges

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | May 05, 2023

RICO is a federal statute known as the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations. It's part of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970.

Racketeering is a federal crime under 18 U.S.C. § 1961, not just a single event. Instead, it usually appears in the environment of organized crime–gangs, gambling rings, mafia, etc.

Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations

RICO allows members of criminal enterprises to be charged with racketeering. If members of the criminal enterprise commit specific federal and state crimes within ten years, the RICO Act applies.

The RICO Act was designed to help the federal government put a dent in organized crime.  Usually, you think of the RICO Act going after big-time gangsters like Al Capone from back in the day. But in today's modern society, the RICO Act, in my view, is being used to try to stamp out gang violence across the United States where these large gangs are involved in the:

  • movement of drugs,
  • movement of weapons,
  • intimidating witnesses, and
  • shooting and killing people.

There's a host of things that these gang members are doing and that the feds are trying to stamp out through the RICO Act. Usually, you'll see a large group of people involved in a gang or involved in a significant criminal conspiracy being arrested simultaneously.

They are indicted at the same time, and then you find yourself caught up with these people, and you're facing many years in federal prison because when RICO is involved:

  • there's 10-year mandatory minimums for drugs;
  • there's 5-year mandatory minimums for guns, and
  • there are other crimes if they prove you are a part of them.

They will charge you with a conspiracy theory and say you conspired with others to commit these crimes, including the RICO Act.

Why Does the Government Use the RICO ACT to Prosecute People?

When people are doing criminal activity related to either gangs or organized crime, there are several charges that the feds can level against them. So they do, depending on what they're doing – whether they're into gambling, drugs, shootings, intimidating witnesses, or murder – there's a whole host of different crimes that usually go along with a federal RICO indictment.

They use this RICO Act because it's like a giant octopus with tentacles.  It can hit criminal organizations on several levels, and the punishments are extremely harsh.


In other words, the RICO Act was designed to go after organizations that commit crimes. Initially, they were thinking about the mafia when they came up with the RICO Act.  But now, I see it often used to attack gangs committing crimes throughout the United States.

So, many federal charges are being leveled against those gangs in various states to try to stop the criminal activity they're involved in. Local governments often need help to prosecute and investigate these cases.  They don't have the resources and manpower to attack these cases. 

That's why they're using the RICO Act to go after gangs.  They're charging multiple people with the RICO Act – drug movement, transportation, distribution, weapons charges, etc.

Many times I see people who really shouldn't be swept up in the case – they shouldn't be in a position where they're facing 10, 20, 30 years in federal prison, but they're somehow linked to those people who are immersed in the gang and are committing crimes that are costing people's lives. 

That's why the feds come in.  They grab everybody.  They throw out a giant net, and if you or a loved one has been caught up in the net, you have to figure out how to get out of it or at least minimize the damage to yourself.

Elements of Racketeering Offenses

In the United States, it is illegal to be paid from a pattern of racketeering activity or collecting an unlawful debt and then using the money to invest in an operation that affects interstate or foreign commerce.

Federal Bureau of Prisons

For a pattern of racketeering to exist, there must be at least two acts of racketeering activity within ten years of each other. A “racketeering activity” means any act or threat of action involving the following:

  • Murder,
  • Kidnapping,
  • Robbery,
  • Bribery,
  • Extortion,
  • Controlled substances,
  • Drug trafficking,
  • Money laundering,
  • Violent crimes.

Further, any action which is criminal under sections of federal laws, such as the following:

Also, any act dealing with restrictions on payments and loans to labor organizations or embezzlement from union funds. Any crime involving fraud related to a case under Title 11, the sale of securities, and the manufacture, importation, receiving, concealing, buying, selling, or dealing in a controlled substance. The Hobbs Act prohibits extortion or robbery by use of force affecting interstate commerce.

Fight the Case or Negotiate a Plea Bargain?

So, if you find yourself or a loved one caught up in a RICO indictment, you must get an experienced attorney.  I've handled these federal cases since the more modern RICO cases were enacted in the 1990s.  I've been practicing now for 30 years.

I began defending people on RICO charges all over the nation.  I've traveled in defense, so I've seen the grassroots of these cases, how they're filed, prosecuted, and what it takes to deal with them. Sometimes we deal with them through a trial, and other times, we deal with them through a negotiation, plea agreement, or plea bargain

You must ensure you can beat the feds in these cases before you take them to trial because I often see cooperators – people go to trial. They've got 4 or 5 cooperators cooperating against them and other people because they're trying to shave time off their sentence. 

So, they'll testify for the government and give them information against each person(s) they know about in the federal indictment.

Meeting to Determine Defense Strategy

For the federal prosecution to obtain a conviction, they must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, all the elements of the crime of racketeering, including:

  • The existence of a criminal enterprise affecting commerce,
  • That you were connected with the enterprise,
  • That you engaged in racketeering activity
  • That you participated in a pattern of racketeering by committing at least two criminal acts

Some common defenses to federal racketeering charges include that you didn't conspire to commit the crimes, your acts were not criminal, you had a mistaken identity, and you are showing there is no pattern of racketeering activity.

Defenses for Federal RICO Charges

What we have you do is have you come in.  We meet with you in my office, or I'll go out once I'm retained on the case, and I've reviewed everything, and meet with the person in custody at one of the federal facilities. 

We will go over the entire case, and we'll decide where you fall.  Do you fall into a situation where you can fight the case, or do you fall into a scenario where you need to negotiate the case?

If we decide to negotiate the case, I'll talk to you about the options available for somebody indicted for RICO and other charges, which I usually see in these cases; it's not just a RICO allegation. 

Other allegations accompany it, and typically the person faces many years in federal prison. If you need the best, you've come to the right place.  Pick up the phone now.  Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.

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About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding

What Makes Ronald Hedding Uniquely Qualified To Represent You? I've been practicing criminal defense for almost 30 years and have handled thousands of cases, including all types of state and federal sex crime cases. All consultations are discreet and confidential.

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