The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) is a federal law (codified at 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961-68) targeting organized criminal activity and racketeering. RICO enhances existing criminal punishments and creates new causes of action for acts done as a part of an organized criminal enterprise.
The law was originally passed in 1970 as a part of a larger movement to curb organized crime and to allow victims of organized crime to recover. While the original statute was primarily targeted at the mafia who’s disconnected structure made conviction of high-ranking members difficult due to the inability to tie them directly to crimes, the use of the statute has now been used to take down many notable criminal enterprises.
RICO imposes a maximum criminal penalty of 20 years in prison for violations of the statute. If sentenced the defendant must also forfeit all proceeds obtained while engaging in racketeering activity to the government. To be convicted under RICO, a pattern of racketeering activity is necessary. This means that at least 2 separate activities that can be classified as racketeering must have occurred within 10 years of each other.
RICO allows for a private individual that was injured by a violation of the law to recover treble damages suffered by the wrongful activity of the offender. A criminal conviction under RICO against the defendant will estop them from defending the allegations if they are brought to civil court.
[Last updated in August of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]