RICO is a law that was originally passed in 1970. Legend has it that the law – created to allow the government to crack down on the Mafia — was named after a character named “Rico” played by Edward G. Robinson in the 1930s gangster film “Little Caesar.” Officially, RICO stands for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, and in the fifty years since it first passed it has successfully taken down mob bosses accused of acting as “criminal enterprises.” Interestingly, since its inception, the law has been interpreted in a variety of ways to allow it to be used against a wide range of organizations.
The terms of the RICO law enable prosecutors to tie numerous crimes together into one case, even if they have covered an extensive period of time. By combining individual crimes into a broader context, law enforcement has been able to pursue those in charge of an organization rather than those who report to them, who are not the ones ordering that the crimes be committed.
RICO’s use against the Mob makes perfect sense: it allows the pursuit of a mob boss who orders underlings to commit crimes in furtherance of the organization, but who hasn’t personally pulled the trigger, set a fire, or committed a burglary. It has been used against those who were involved in the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as well as to pursue those who conspired with Bernie Madoff. There have been several notorious RICO cases over the years, including those outlined below.
- The very first time that RICO was applied was nine years after the law was passed when the government went after the Hell’s Angel’s motorcycle gang. Though they were originally acquitted, subsequent prosecutions have been successful.
- The head of the Genovese crime family was successfully prosecuted on racketeering charges in 1980. Over the years, the government was able to use the law to pursue over a dozen of the most notorious mob families in the country. Notably, the heads of five Mafia families in New York City were successfully convicted as a coordinated enterprise by the Southern District of New York.
- In 2019 a group that organized a campaign against Planned Parenthood was convicted of RICO violations involving violating both federal and state laws in an effort to bar access to reproductive healthcare.
RICO violations are a highly specific area of law for which attorneys require significant background knowledge and experience. If you need assistance with a RICO claim, contact our Philadelphia law firm to set up an appointment.