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What is the RICO Act?

By Dayo Akinwande
Updated May 16, 2024
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In the United States, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act is a federal law that was enacted to give extended penalties in the prosecution of organized criminal acts. The RICO Act is codified as Chapter 96 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, which deals with federal crimes and criminal procedure. Although it was intended to be used against the Mafia and others engaged in organized crime, the RICO Act has been used to prosecute all sorts of criminal activity.


The RICO Act was created as part of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970. As a product of two sets of Congressional hearings that took place in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the act's main focus was on measures that would be prohibitive to gambling organizations. Sponsored by Senator John Little McClellan and drafted by G. Robert Blakey, the Rico Act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on 15 October 1970.

Crimes and Punishments

Under the RICO Act, a person can be charged with racketeering — which includes bribery, extortion, illegal drug sales, loan sharking, murder and prostitution — if he or she has committed two of the 27 federal and eight state crimes under U.S. legislation within a 10-year period. The law gives the government the power to criminally prosecute and imprison an organized crime leader even if he or she has never personally committed any of the components of racketeering. This is because he or she is part of a criminal enterprise.

RICO sets criminal penalties for racketeering activity. Convicted persons are fined or sentenced to prison for as long as 20 years. In some cases, however, the defendant can receive a life sentence. This can occur when the violation is based on a crime for which the maximum penalty includes life imprisonment.

Compensation for Victims

The RICO Act also provides a civil suit component for victims. This includes the relatives of murdered victims, employers whose workers were bribed, extorted businessmen and loan shark debtors. Such people or parties can sue the organized crime leader for damages as a result of the racketeering activity. If convicted, the criminal is responsible for compensation to the injured party at triple the damages, plus the cost of the suit and attorney fees. The defendant also must surrender any profits or gains made from his or her crimes.


RICO has been applied to cases in which at least one component of racketeering is involved. A prime example is the Mohawk Industries case that the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed in 2006, in which the flooring company was charged with hiring illegal aliens — one of the violations the RICO Act classified under racketeering. In this case and many others in which the RICO Act has been used, the Mafia was not even involved.

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Discussion Comments

By anon341203 — On Jul 09, 2013

I have been being charged money by a finance company and feel their banks had to have known it. There's no way they could miss tens of millions in fraud without catching how. They were saying it went to us (clients) and did not but we were also charged interest on the money we never got.

We were told if we said anything all our funding would stop, closing our doors as a business and ruining us personally!

What the heck can you do? They've held us hostage and ran us in the ground. Finally, one got caught, but my question is why aren't the main lenders to that finance company responsible for the business practices of said finance company? Is this just total negligence? I don't think so. I think they caught it and let the finance company keep operating in hopes of them digging out of their hole and they were making millions off the finance company, which ultimately is us, the client/customers. Anyone know of cases where banks were sued so I can use it with my attorney?

By anon336937 — On Jun 01, 2013

What would happen if the RICO ACT were to cease to exist due to budget cuts?

By anon304033 — On Nov 17, 2012

Why don't big labor unions fit under RICO? For example, the way that they buy off politicians and bribe them with "campaign contributions" (bribery), force their members to vote for certain people and threaten people who break picket lines (coercion), threaten people who testify against them, obstruction of justice, forcing non-union people to pay into the union in "union states" (extortion), etc.

By anon289196 — On Sep 03, 2012

What about plumbers who double bill, make a deal with you to take certain property you own, but only turn in the lesser bill to the plumbing company and keep your property for themselves. Do RICO laws apply?

By anon275089 — On Jun 15, 2012

What about the banks? Why hasn't anyone sued for RICO? They are the most corrupt organizations and are running and ruining our world.

By anon198800 — On Jul 20, 2011

The Child "protective" services racket and their puppets and profiteers should be prosecuted under this act. All of the players in this racket exploit state sponsored, government bonus incentives by destroying families and endangering children for profit under the guise of child "protection".

There are many players that collude with CPS in their perpetrated fraud and this has been occurring for more than 10 years and across the globe at the cost of billions of tax payer dollars. If anything would fit a mafia type business,CPS is the Godfather in this fraudulent legal kidnapping and extortion ring.

A special investigation should probe the "substantial proof" that courts claim designates a "contrary to the welfare" finding necessary for the big bucks. This would expose how the players lie to abduct children from fit parents in this corrupt system so everyone, including the court, is cashing in on the profits at the taxpayers and the children's expense.

By GolfForLife — On Aug 18, 2010

@Charitable - In addition to bribery, extortion, drug sales, loan sharking, murder, and prostitution, several other crimes fall under the RICO Act's definition of racketeering. These include, theft, arson, kidnapping, gambling, counterfeiting, several kinds of fraud, embezzlement, assisting and aiding illegal aliens, using cheap labor from illegal aliens, engaging murder-for-hire services, obstruction of justice, and acts of terrorism as they are defined on a federal level. I hope this helps.

@bigblind - I agree with you that legalizing drugs (to a certain extent) and prostitution (if properly regulated) would practically destroy many powerful criminal organizations, and that legalizing these things would outrage conservative America. I'm surprised that this sort of legal act didn't exist at the beginning of the 20th century, when criminals like Al Capone could get away with countless murders and other crimes but only be charged for tax evasion.

By Charitable — On Aug 18, 2010

What are some of the other crimes included under the RICO Act?

By bigblind — On Aug 18, 2010

A very informative article. I never realized that there was a way to circumvent legal procedures in order to prosecute known members of crime organizations with harsher sentences than the sums of their crimes. I suppose it's probably the best way to cut away at powerful criminal organizations without legalizing drugs and prostitution (doing so would instantaneously dismantle these organizations' economies, but make lots of Americans mad). I guess the RICO Act is a bit like making gang affiliation illegal, in a sense, in that there is a harsher penalty for those who engage in multiple types of criminal behavior (as gang members often have to).

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