West Palm Beach Racketeering Attorney

Potent Florida RICO defense in Palm Beach County

Most people are familiar with racketeering through its depiction in mafia movies and crime dramas. In reality, racketeering charges are filed against less organized business operations far more often than large rings and glamorized crime families. Regardless, federal racketeering carries substantial penalties, which may include time in jail or prison if an accused person is convicted.

Florida racketeering charges

A criminal enterprise may be charged with federal racketeering if the group commits, attempts, or even conspires to commit any combination of two or more of the crimes prosecutors may use to support a racketeering charge. There are 35 eligible crimes identified by the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law, based upon which racketeering charges are filed. Most of the specified crimes are felonies. Some examples include:

  • murder;
  • kidnapping;
  • gambling;
  • bribery;
  • extortion;
  • dealing in a controlled substance;
  • dealing in obscene matter;
  • arson;
  • bribery;
  • mail and wire fraud.

West Palm Beach racketeering enterprises

Under the federal RICO statute, simply committing any combination of the 35 specified crimes is not enough for a person to be convicted of racketeering. The prosecution must prove the accused participated in an organized criminal act–also known as a “racket”–as part of an enterprise. The RICO law is not limited to criminal groups. An enterprise can consist of any partnership, group, or union of individuals, including criminal organizations and legitimate businesses and corporations.

Racketeering enterprises in Florida

Under federal law, simply proving the defendant committed two or more of the acts specified in the RICO statute is not enough for a prosecutor to obtain a conviction. The individual must have also participated in an organized criminal act, also known as a “racket,” in the furtherance of an interstate criminal enterprise. The RICO statute is not limited to criminal organizations. An enterprise can also be a legitimate business or non-profit or any other partnership, union, or group of individuals, including cartels and crime rings. Moreover, the enterprise must exist and maintain its structure independently of the criminal acts. Therefore, random strangers who meet at a bar and conspire to rob a store, but are no longer in contact after the robbery would likely not be considered an enterprise.

Pattern of racketeering activity

A pattern of racketeering consists of two or more of the crimes specified in the federal statute, and the acts must be continuous. To meet the requirement of “close-ended” continuity, the multiple criminal acts must take place within the span of one year or longer. “Open-ended” continuity simply requires that there be a threat of the acts repeating indefinitely into the future or that the criminal activity be part of the organization’s ongoing way of doing business. A group that works together to move from city to city and steal paintings, sell the paintings, then launder the money by opening ice cream shops over the span of 3 years would likely meet the definition of closed-ended continuity. A small business that solicits people to kidnap city council members who vote in favor of ordinances that negatively impact the group’s business may meet the definition of open-ended continuity.

Prohibited activities

Activities prohibited under the RICO law are relatively broadly in scope. In addition to physically participating in the criminal acts set forth in the federal statute, there are other ways a person can be implicated in a racketeering case. The following activities are also prohibited:

  • receiving income derived from racketeering, including collecting gambling debt;
  • using or investing racketeering income;
  • maintaining an interest in or control of a enterprise that engages in racketeering;
  • participating in racketeering activities as an employee of an enterprise that engages in illegal activities;
  • conspiring to do any of the above.

Potential defenses

There are multiple elements prosecutors must establish before a defendant may be convicted of racketeering. Each of these elements represent a potential point of defense for attorneys who represent the accused parties in racketeering cases. Federal cases are prosecuted by some of the most accomplished attorneys in the United States; therefore, a defendant who is facing a federal racketeering charge requires the legal counsel of an attorney who is driven, accomplished, and has the professional resources that are often necessary to prevail in federal court. Depending on the facts of the case, a defendant’s attorney may choose one or a combination of multiple different approaches to defending his or her client.

Statute of limitations

Federal racketeering cases are covered by a catchall law that imposes a five-year statute of limitations on federal criminal court cases. Therefore, cases filed more than four years after the pattern of criminal activity has taken place are likely to be dismissed. In addition to criminal court charges, a RICO action may be brought against a defendant in civil court to collect compensation for injuries caused by the racketeering activity. Courts have held that the statute of limitations for a civil RICO claim is four years.

Insufficient racketeering indictment in West Palm Beach

One of the first lines of attack for a seasoned West Palm Beach defense lawyer is to question the legitimacy of the indictment against his or her client. The attorney may argue any of the following:

  • there was no enterprise in existence;
  • the enterprise did not affect interstate commerce;
  • the defendant was not associated with or employed by the enterprise;
  • The defendant did not engage in a pattern of racketeering activity.

Criminal penalties for racketeering

If convicted on a federal racketeering charge, a defendant who has no prior record may be sentenced to a minimum of 30 to 37 months in prison. However, judges have more discretion now than in years past. Therefore, the court may take steps to increase or decrease the sentence. Therefore, even if a person is convicted, his or her Florida defense lawyer may be able to obtain a shorter prison sentence and/or persuade the court to allow the sentence to be served in a less restrictive facility.

Call on a qualified Florida RICO defense lawyer

The best response to being investigated or charged with racketeering is to contact a trustworthy, qualified Florida defense lawyer. A defense attorney, can thoroughly explain all legal options in addition to counseling clients through the critical preliminary stages of a federal case. People who have been charged and even those who believe they or their employer may be under investigation should speak with an attorney to determine the best ways to avoid incriminating themselves and giving the appearance that they may be aiding the enterprise in engaging in racketeering activities.