Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Feb 20, 2013

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RICO stands for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (18 U.S.C. § 1961), a law that increases the severity of penalties for crimes performed in conjunction with organized crime. The law states that any person or group who commits any two out of a list of 35 crimes (known as racketeering activityin the U.S. Code) within a decade and can be determined to have committed them with similar results or similar intentions can be charged with racketeering.

The maximum penalties for racketeering include a fine of up to $25,000 and up to 20 years in prison in addition to the forfeiture of all business interests and gains gleaned from the criminal activity. In addition, the case can be re-tried in civil court; plaintiffs are allowed to sue for triple damages. The law covers crimes such as bribery, extortion, money laundering, counterfeiting, gambling, murder, arson, robbery, kidnapping, harboring certain illegal aliens, obstruction of justice, slavery and others.

In order to prosecute a RICO case, investigators need to establish evidence of the existence of a criminal organization. U.S. Attorneys General who pursue RICO charges can opt to seek an injunction or restraining order before trial that prevents the assets in question from being transferred and requires the defendant to put up a performance bond. This usually serves to push the defendant to plead guilty to the charges before an indictment (a formal accusation against the defendant).

RICO laws are especially effective in prosecuting those who retaliate against victims, whistleblowers or witnesses of crimes when those parties cooperate with law enforcement or an ongoing investigation. In addition, anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) laws can be applied in order to stop corporations or individuals from abusing the legal system by filing retaliatory lawsuits against whistleblowers or crime victims.