Corruption Crime: The Dirtiest Dollar

corruption-crimeThe purpose of the article is to provide individuals accused of racketeering with basic practical legal information including, charges, penalties and possible defenses. If you are just curious about the subject, it will provide a good overview. It is not intended as a substitute for qualified legal counsel.

A racket is an illegal business, such a loan sharking (loaning money to individuals with illegally high interest rates). Engaging in a racket is racketeering.  Racketeering is a legal tern used to describe businesses or a structured group of people who make their money or profits by means of illegal activity.   The term has been traditionally associated with organized crime.  There are two elements included in racketeering crimes. First there has to be a continuous pattern of illegal activity. Second, the activities are conducted as part of a venture that is owned or controlled by the people who are committing the illegal acts.  The term “pattern” for the purposes of this article is paramount in the investigation and prosecution of this offense. It is also a key element to defending a charge of racketeering.  There must be two incidents of illegal activity within a ten year period to obtain a racketeering charge.


According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the government passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organizations Act or RICO act in the 1970’s to control the activities of organized crime.  They use RICO to define racketeering as a criminal enterprise composed of any group of six or more people, where one of the six occupies a position of organizer, a supervisory position, or any other position of management with respect to the other five, and which generates substantial income or resources, and is engaged in a continuing series of violations of the law. The different violations of the law include both federal and state crimes all of which are felonies when applied to racketeering charges.

Racketeering charges have been used against many different types of enterprises including: the mafia, police departments, insider trading by investment firms, major league baseball, insurance companies, companies that hire illegal immigrants, and street gangs.

Twenty seven states have racketeering laws to date. The wording of state statues may be different than that of federal statures but the elements of the racketeering are the same. The states tend to use racketeering laws to enable victims to collect financial damages, by having all convicted parties forfeit any profits or property. The state statues are also used at times to limit and break up street gang activity.  Prosecutors often use the statues to obtain longer prison sentences and for sentencing enhancements.

The punishment for violating the criminal provisions of racketeering and the RICO Act is exceptionally severe. If convicted, a defendant is fined and sentenced to not more than 20 years in prison for each RICO violation. Furthermore, the defendant must forfeit any interest, claim against, or property or rights over the criminal enterprise, and any property that is obtained from racketeering.

Racketeers are caught in a number of ways. Government agents who suspect an organization begin surveillance to try and show a pattern of activity. They often obtain court orders to tap the phone lines or to send in auditors. Sometimes an undercover agent will be sent in to try and infiltrate the organization. In other cases law enforcement will attempt to find a person within the organization to work with agents to obtain evidence for prosecution.  When many people involved with a racketeering enterprise are arrested, the government sometimes makes a deal to with one party to “roll over” or to “turn States Evidence” and testify against the other principals involved in exchange for immunity or a reduced sentence.

It requires a great deal of work to defend a charge of corruption crime, however, it is the prosecution’s job to prove that someone was involved with the criminal activity. There are typically multiple defendants in a racketeering case. If a party can show that were not aware of any criminal activity (in a case such as an investment company) then they can be relieved of criminal liability.  Entrapment can be used as a defense if it can be shown that the person was approached by a government agent to commit a racketeering related crime and they did not originally have the intent to do so. Likewise, if the government fails to show a pattern of behavior an acquittal is likely.

Federal Racketeering Crimes

  • Bribery
  • Sports Bribery
  • Counterfeiting
  • Embezzlement of Union Funds
  • Mail Fraud
  • Wire Fraud
  • Money Laundering
  • Obstruction of Justice
  • Murder for Hire
  • Drug Trafficking
  • Prostitution
  • Sexual Exploitation of Children
  • Alien Smuggling
  • Trafficking in Counterfeit Goods
  • Theft from Interstate Shipments
  • Interstate Transportation of Stolen Property

State Racketeering Crimes

  • Murder
  • Kidnapping
  • Gambling
  • Arson
  • Robbery
  • Bribery
  • Extortion
  • Some Drug Charges

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