The term “racketeering” can be a somewhat elusive concept. The dictionary definition of the term is “dishonest and fraudulent business dealings.” In other words, to be guilty of “racketeering” you must be regularly making money based on (i.e., making a business out of) criminal activity.
That said, we all know that drug dealers do not file a form with the IRS to establish themselves as a “business,” so what do police and prosecutors use to find that you have committed a “racketeering” offense. Well, law enforcement focuses on a pattern of criminal activity. So, in the drug trafficking context, racketeering refers to the repeated sale of drugs.
A. Is RICO the Same as Racketeering?
More often than not, racketeering will be charged in federal court, rather than in state court. In federal court, the charge of racketeering is commonly referred to as a “RICO” charge. RICO is simply an acronym that stands for the federal criminal law entitled, “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.” So, to answer the question above, yes RICO is the same as “racketeering.”
The RICO statute was originally enacted to take down organized crime enterprises, most specifically “the mafia.” However, the elements of the legislation are such that it can be applied to charge much smaller organizations that are involved in nefarious activities.
B. Drug Trafficking as an Illegal Cash Business
Drug dealers, of course, deal mainly with cash. That poses a problem though. What to do with all of that cash? There is only so much room in the proverbial mattress. To deal with that issue, drug dealers sometimes develop, often with the help of others, ways to “launder” that money. In other words, they need to “clean” the illegal stain off of the money in some way. They may put the money behind legitimate-looking businesses or assets, and then use those businesses to start other businesses. All of this being funded with drug proceeds.
If the government gets wind of this, it will use RICO to bring the entire operation down. These cases get incredibly complicated because there are so many people and often multiple jurisdictions involved, as well as the intermingling of legitimate money and drug proceeds.
Accordingly, under absolutely no circumstances should you try to fight a RICO case on your own. A RICO case is simply far too complex for one defendant to go it alone. Get an experienced defense attorney in your corner.
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