RICO Racketeering Influence Corrupt Organizations Act and the Mafia Term Paper

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RICO Act and the Mafia

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"RICO is one of the federal government's most sweeping criminal laws. It is aimed at the commercial effects of enterprise criminality, but can be used to prosecute non-economic racketeering activity perpetrated by individuals who are associated with non-economic intrastate enterprises" (Nisbet, 2009, p. 509).

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) legislation was passed by Congress in 1970. It is part of the Organized Crime Control Act, and was adopted specifically to fight organized crime, though it has been flexible enough to be used in other "racketeering" type crimes since then, such as white-collar corporate felonies. it's original design and mandate was that it be adaptable, and "liberally construed," and the U.S. Supreme Court has since upheld its use against legitimate businesses and also to those businesses that are non-profit seeking (Holt & Davis, Spring 2009).

Definition

The stated purpose of RICO, which is officially designated as Title IX of the Organized Crime Control Act, is "the elimination of the infiltration of organized crime and racketeering into legitimate organizations operating in the interstate commerce." The U.S. Attorney General can specify any agency of the federal government to investigate provisions of RICO.

Racketeering, under RICO, is defined under an extensive list of state and federal crimes including bribery, fraud, gambling, money laundering, financial and economic crimes, obstructing justice, murder, and sexual exploitation of children. In addition, state RICO statutes include murder, kidnapping, gambling, arson, robbery, bribery, extortion, dealing in obscene matter, and drug crimes. Since RICO prosecutes a "pattern of racketeering activity," it defines "pattern" as at least two acts of racketeering activity, one of which occurred after RICO became law and the last of which occurred within ten years after the prior act (Reinhart, 2006).

An individual who belongs to an organization that has committed more than one of a list of 35 crimes within a ten-year period, can be charged under RICO. And anyone who is found guilty of racketeering is liable for a fine of up to $250,000 and may be sentenced to 20 years in prison per count. Additionally, a person convicted under RICO gives up any profits plus interest that they have accumulated through the racketeering. Finally, any individual that has been "injured" financially by racketeering may file a civil suit, and, if his suit proves successful, may collect triple his actual damages (Nisbet, 2009).

Perhaps a unique feature of RICO is that the U.S. Attorney may obtain a restraining order prior to trial to seize the defendant's assets in order to stop the potential transfer of property that may be forfeited once the person is convicted. A common practice of the Mafia leaders was to escape with or funnel those assets, and this restraining order prevents that from happening.

History

G. Robert Blakey, as a boy, watched and was captivated by the 1931 move, Little Caesar, starring Edward G. Robinson playing the character Rico Bandello as a violent mobster. But what caught most of his attention was the good guys who were fighting against organized crime. Blakey would later become one of this country's foremost experts on organized crime. He taught at Notre Dame and Cornell. And he had a long, distinguished law enforcement career including positions in the U.S. Department of Justice's Organized Crime Division. He also became chief counsel to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Criminal Laws and Procedures (Gordon, 2002).

His foremost achievement may have been the law he authored in 1970. His object was to eliminate the Mafia and all other types of organized crime. He named his law, many believe, after that violent character he was so magnetized by in the movie he saw as a boy -- Rico. Blakey will not admit that. However, his law, with its simply stated goal, would kick off one of the most significant and violent law enforcement struggles ever experienced.

The Mafia had been hard at work since the early 1900s, especially after the prohibition of liquor was repealed in 1933. Bootlegging of alcohol which had been prominent after passage of prohibition now turned into other crimes such as fronting legitimate businesses and utilizing them for all sorts of crimes. During this time, several laws had been passed to prosecute criminal activities in gambling, loan sharking, transportation of stolen goods, and extortion. However, there was no law that specifically addressed indicting and convicting persons for participating in "organized crime" (West's Encyclopedia of American Law, 1998).

Believe it or not, the bill sat almost unused for most of the 1970s as law enforcement agencies struggled with each other more than they did with the Mafia over who controlled what and who had the authority to enforce what laws. Federal agencies were in an almost constant turf war. And many even argued over whether or not the Mafia existed, and if so how powerful they really were. All this occurred even after mobster Joseph Valachi testified, in 1963, that a secret conspiratorial criminal organization existed known as "La Cosa Nostra." Robert Kennedy, in 1961, was the first Attorney General to challenge some of the leaders of organized crime and pass anti-gambling legislation to help prosecute them (Gordon, 2002).

Blakey even took his show on the road, so to speak. He traveled to FBI field offices, and U.S. attorneys' offices extolling the features of the law and attempting to impress upon law enforcement what a major weapon the RICO bill was for them. In 1979, he established a summer law enforcement-training seminar at Cornell Law School, including seminars for FBI agents, assistant U.S. attorneys and state prosecutors. When prosecutors finally discovered the value of the law, constitutional questions confounded the use of it as an effective weapon that would be misused because of its open and liberal language. The first significant application of the law was in 1985 when a number of top Mafia leaders were convicted using RICO -- 15 years after its passage. Lefty Guns Ruggiero, Anthony Salerno, Gambino family boss Paul Castellano, and the Bonano family chief, Phillip Rastelli were among the many brought down by RICO in the mid-1980s. After those very public indictments and convictions, the recognition of the bill as a vital weapon against the Mafia and racketeering exploded (Gordon, 2002).

Individual states have also adopted RICO laws that contain statutes which might apply more specifically to the activity in their territory or cover crimes which are not covered under the federal RICO Act.

Legal Concerns

RICO is a complex law. The U.S. courts have struggled with interpreting and applying it since its passage 40 years ago. The history shows a general struggle between the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts with the highest court in the land continually rejecting limitations on the application of RICO. Given that, civil plaintiffs have tried to use RICO in cases which are beyond even the original broad and ever-expanding guidelines laid out by the court. Business disputes and simple fraud cases are two examples. Congress used such liberal language in the original writing of RICO it has allowed these random attempts to use the act as a catch-all for civil recovery of damages (Harvard Law Review Assoc., 2008).

There have been several constitutional challenges to RICO over the years. They have challenged the law in seven areas: vagueness, double jeopardy, First Amendment rights, Eighth Amendment, equal protection, due process, and Tenth Amendment. We will briefly discuss each one (Jones, Satory, & Mace, Spring 2002, pp. 1008-1016).

Vagueness. H.J. Inc. v. Northwestern Bell Telephone Co. 492 U.S. 229 (1989). RICO has successfully stood against all challenges. The argument that RICO's "pattern" requirement was unconstitutionally vague was denied by the Supreme Court.

Double Jeopardy. U.S. v. Diaz, 176 F.3d 52, 116 (2dCir. 1999). The 2nd Circuit Court, in U.S. v. Sessa, held that even prosecution for both a substantive RICO violation and for a subsequent conspiracy to violate RICO did not violate double jeopardy. Between Diaz and Sessa, it seems that RICO is almost immune to a double jeopardy challenge.

First Amendment. National Organization for Women, Inc. v. Scheidler, 510 U.S. 249 (1994). Challenges in this area have been overwhelmingly unsuccessful. Though the First Amendment preserves rights of association, they do not apply in the case of RICO violations where "association" is part of a plan to commit a crime. As to the right of free expression, in Alexander v. U.S., the Supreme Court said that the application of RICO forfeiture provisions to the assets of an owner of an adult entertainment business who violated federal obscenity laws did not violate the First Amendment (Jones, Satory, & Mace, Spring 2002, p.979)

Eighth Amendment. Cruel and unusual punishment and excessive fines clause restricts government imposed criminal penalties. Alexander v. U.S., 509 U.S. 544 (1993). The Court found that the forfeiture provisions of RICO do not violate the Eighth Amendment. Other courts have found the same regarding its cruel and unusual punishment guidelines.

Equal Protection. U.S.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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