Are You Looking at a Long Federal Prison Sentence if You're Involved in a RICO Case?
Organized crime in the United States is generally described as a criminal enterprise with members engaging in illegal activity for financial gain. Prosecutors first used the federal RICO Act to go after mob leaders but it has evolved into a powerful tool against fraud, extortion, and drug cartels.
The Organized Crime Control Act includes the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law that allows prosecutors to file charges against the members within of the organization.
Racketeering is a term used to describe an organization's members who commit crimes. Thus, RICO charges are normally used by a federal prosecutor in an effort to obtain convictions against several members within the organization for multiple crimes.
This means the primary advantage of RICO is that it gives prosecutors a tool to indict several criminal organization members for offenses when they didn't actually commit the crime themselves.
A federal prosecutor will use RICO to secure a conviction against the most junior members of the organization and the top senior leaders who ordered the crimes in the first place. Our federal criminal defense attorneys are reviewing the law below for more information.
Federal Crimes under the RICO Act
RICO charges covers a variety of federal offenses directly related to an ongoing criminal enterprise. There must be at least two crimes that were committed through the enterprise within 10 years. Some of the most common crimes covered under the RICO Act include the following:
- drug crimes,
- wire fraud,
- mail fraud,
- money laundering,
- violent crimes,
- human trafficking,
As stated, RICO allows prosecutors to file racketeering charges against a group of people who probably didn't even personally commit the crime. In order to prove you are guilty of racketeering that is in violation of the federal RICO Act, the prosecution must prove all the elements of the crime beyond any reasonable doubt, including:
- there was a criminal enterprise that affected commerce;
- you were a participant within the enterprise;
- you willfully engaged in racketeering activity;
- you participated in racketeering with at least two illegal acts.
If you are convicted of racketeering under the federal RICO Act, then you are facing a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison for each count of racketeering, or, if the RICO charges include predicate crimes punishable by life imprisonment, such as murder, then you could be sentenced to life in prison.
RICO ACT Indictments
The RICO is basically the organized crime statute that was put into place to dole out long federal prison sentences for individuals involved in organized crime. This is a huge umbrella.
These types of crimes, when you're talking about RICO indictments in the federal criminal world, involve:
- intimidation of witnesses,
- drug trafficking, and
- usually, there's a gang at the center of the violation.
So, many times, you'll see the federal government come in and arrest multiple gang members. I've seen as many as 100 people indicted at the same time, basically trying to take out the entire gang, and usually, it's the federal government doing it.
This is because the state government, also known as the local authorities, doesn't have the manpower, the time, the sophistication and the funds to be able to prosecute some of these RICO cases. The Hobbs Act prohibits extortion or robbery by use of force affecting interstate commerce.
Mandatory Minimum Sentence
So, I would say, in general, the answer to the question is yes, you are looking at a long prison sentence if you're charged in a RICO case because, a lot of times it involves a lot of narcotics.
Some conspiracy theories are usually alleged, and if they can tie you into a conspiracy related to a large amount of drugs, they're usually triggering mandatory minimum sentences.
The most common mandatory minimum sentence is ten years. So, that doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get the ten years. That's just the minimum sentence you can get. So, you could get ten years and up, depending on whatever charges there are against you — what your criminal history looks like, and a host of other factors.
Getting Under the Mandatory Minimum
On the flip side, if you have no criminal record and somehow got tied into a large RICO investigation, you're really not significantly involved.
You kind of a minor player, so to speak, then you might have a chance to get what's called a safety valve, which allows you, if you're not a leader/organizer and a number of other factors, to get underneath that 10-year mandatory minimum.
There are also other ways to get underneath the 10-year mandatory minimum. Of course, one of them is, to prove yourself not guilty. A lot of times, people can't do that because these RICO investigations involve:
- wiretap evidence,
- people who are cooperating with the government.
Another way to get under the 10-year mandatory minimum is to cooperate with the government. They can give you what's called a 5K departure. That not only takes you under the mandatory minimum, they can shave off years of your sentence depending on how helpful you are to the government.
Of course, a lot of times, people in these RICO indictments don't want to cooperate with the government for various reasons:
- number one, they don't like the government and don't want to do it;
- number two, they could be at risk if other members of the gang or conspiracy find out that they cooperated; they're life could be in jeopardy; their family's life could be in jeopardy.
Defending Federal RICO Charges
So, you have to sit down and think about how you want to defend your case and whether you are looking at many years in a federal prison.
Of course, that's done with sitting down with an attorney with much experience. I've been doing this for almost three decades.
I was involved in the original RICO indictments that came down against a number of different gangs here in Los Angeles.
So, you've come to the right place. Take the first step. Pick up the phone. Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding. I stand at the ready to help you.
Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles County at 16000 Ventura Blvd #1208 Encino, CA 91436. Our firm offers a free consultation at (213) 542-0994.