Services that are offered to people through fraud or false pretenses are often referred to as a ‘racket.’ Rackets are illegal activities that involve many types of financial crimes. Racketeering activities are defined under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. RICO states that a variety of crimes are racketeering, including bribery, fraud, intimidation, and extortion. Violent crimes such as murder and drug crimes including drug trafficking also can be tied to racketeering charges.
Racketeering can include many types of criminal activities at the same time. In many criminal cases, the methods that an organized criminal enterprise use can expose it to being prosecuted for mail and wire fraud as well. Efforts to conceal the crimes also can be federal crimes, such as money laundering and tax evasion.
The RICO Act was passed in 1970 as part of a comprehensive crime bill. The law allows the federal government to charge a suspect with racketeering if during a period of 10 years, the defendant received income from three or more offenses that are defined as racketeering, as well as eight state crimes in 10 years. RICO also allows federal prosecution for using a partnership or corporation to engage in racketeering that affects foreign or interstate commerce. Private individuals can also file civil lawsuits for monetary compensation under the RICO Act.
The federal RICO Act is what is used to prosecute racketeering crimes in the state of Massachusetts. The law was passed by Congress to provide prosecutors with more tools to fight organized crime. RICO allows people to be convicted for crimes committed by the illegal organizations to which they belong. It is not necessary to prove that an individual personally engaged in money laundering. If the prosecutor can prove money laundering occurred in a criminal organization and the individual worked in that organization, the person can be convicted.
Massachusetts Racketeering Conviction
As in all other states, to be convicted of racketeering, the prosecutor is not required to prove that you did anything illegal yourself. It must only be shown in Massachusetts that you are in charge of or work in a criminal organization, and that organization is engaged in at least one criminal activity.
The federal RICO Act requires the prosecution to prove the following four elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- Conduct: The defendant who was participating in the illegal organization was carrying out the directions of that organization.
- Enterprise: According to 18 USC section 1961 (4), this is defined as any group of individuals that is associated but is not a legal entity. This can include partnerships, corporations, associations, or an individual that is engaged in illegal activity.
- Pattern: Federal law requires at least two acts of racketeering activity. The acts must amount to or pose the possibility of continued criminal activity.
- Racketeering activity: This can include arson, robbery, bribery, extortion, money laundering, gambling, kidnapping, fraud, obstruction of justice, forgery and drug trafficking. Note: It is impossible to be convicted for racketeering without any accompanying crime.
Massachusetts Racketeering Laws and Penalties
Penalties for racketeering crimes are administered via a federal judge using the guidelines of the federal RICO Act. Racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering are both first degree felonies. You can be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison and receive a $25,000 fine for a single racketeering charge. Also, you may have to pay restitution to your victims and forfeit assets. This means the government will obtain legal title to your assets. Note that the assets that are seized by the government that belong to you can far exceed the amount of money that was made in the illegal activity.
Legal Defenses to Racketeering Charges in Massachusetts
There are many possible defenses to RICO charges in Massachusetts. It is possible for example that the RICO ‘person’ is indistinguishable from the criminal enterprise. Also, the pattern of racketeering activities may not be continuous enough. Also, the indictment may not allege sentencing factors to sentence that is in excess of the maximum allowed under the statute. Also, the RICO complaint may not have enough particularity when wire or mail fraud allegations are involved.
Your defense team may also be able to show that there was insufficient evidence that you were working in the illegal organization. Some law enforcement officers may also act in an illegal way during the arrest process, and this can result in dismissal of charges. Another possible defense is showing you lacked any knowledge of illegal crimes.
Statute of Limitations for Racketeering Charges
One of the unusual aspects of the RICO Act is Congress did not specify a statute of limitations when the law was passed. But this was remedied later under Title 18, section 3282 of the US Code that states no person shall be prosecuted unless the indictment is found or information is instituted within five years after the offense was allegedly committed.
Massachusetts Racketeering Cases
- Gang Member Pleads Guilty to Boston Teen Killing Role -- A member of the MS-13 gang pleaded guilty this monty to his role in the murder of a 15 year old Boston boy who was lured to his death with a fake Facebook page. Federal prosecutors said 21 year old Carlos Melara pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy. The gang enticed the boy to an East Boston Beach by posing as a girl who wanted to meet him. Several gang members stabbed him to death at the beach.
- Former Massachusetts Senator’s Trial Could Take 6 Weeks -- A criminal trial that could prove a former state senator’s alleged corrupt use of his office could take up to six weeks. Brian Joyce, a Democrat, is accused of corruption and racketeering, as well as accepting bribes and kickbacks in exchange for official actions in the Senate, and putting pressure on other lawmakers. It is alleged as much as $1 million was involved in the various schemes.
- MS-13 Member Sentenced to 22 Years for Chelsea Murder -- An MS-13 member received 22 years in prison after pleading guilty to racketeering conspiracy involving murder, attempted murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. Bryan Galicia Barillas is a Guatemalan national who lived in Chelsea was involved in the attempted murder of a rival gang member, but accidently shot an innocent bystander.