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Friday, December 14, 2012

RICO: A Brief Sketch

Charles Doyle
Senior Specialist in American Public Law

Congress enacted the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) provisions as part of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970. In spite of its name and origin, RICO is not limited to “mobsters” or members of “organized crime” as those terms are popularly understood. Rather, it covers those activities which Congress felt characterized the conduct of organized crime, no matter who actually engages in them.

RICO proscribes no conduct that is not otherwise prohibited. Instead it enlarges the civil and criminal consequences, under some circumstances, of a list of state and federal crimes.

In simple terms, RICO condemns: 

(1) any person 

(2) who 

(a) invests in, or 

(b) acquires or maintains an interest in, or 

(c) conducts or participates in the affairs of, or 

(d) conspires to invest in, acquire, or conduct the affairs of 

(3) an enterprise 

(4) which 

(a) engages in, or 

(b) whose activities affect, interstate or foreign commerce 

(5) through 

(a) the collection of an unlawful debt, or 

(b) the patterned commission of various state and federal crimes. 

Violations are punishable by (a) the forfeiture of any property acquired through a RICO violation and of any property interest in the enterprise involved in the violation, and (b) imprisonment for not more than 20 years, or for life if one of the predicate offenses carries such a penalty, and/or a fine of not more than the greater of twice the amount of gain or loss associated with the offense or $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for organizations. RICO has generally survived constitutional challenges, although its forfeiture provisions are subject to an excessive fines clause analysis and perhaps to cruel and unusual punishment disproportionality analysis.

RICO violations also subject the offender to civil liability. The courts may award anyone injured in their business or property by a RICO violation treble damages, costs and attorneys’ fees, and may enjoin RICO violations, order divestiture, dissolution or reorganization, or restrict an offender’s future professional or investment activities. Civil RICO has been controversial. At one time commentators urged Congress to amend its provisions. Congress found little consensus on the questions raised by proposed revisions, however, and the issue seems to have been put aside at least for the time being.

The text of the RICO sections, citations to state RICO statutes, and a selected bibliography are appended. This report appears in an abridged form, without footnotes, full citations or appendices, as CRS Report RS20376, RICO: An Abridged Sketch, by Charles Doyle.

Date of Report: December 7, 2012
Number of Pages: 43
Order Number: 96-950
Price: $29.95

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