State and federal governments seek to prevent and punish organized crime through racketeering laws. 

Whether charged at the state or federal level, racketeering is a serious offense. If charged with racketeering, a person could face substantial fines, a lengthy prison sentence and additional penalties. 

If you or someone you know has been charged with racketeering, only a qualified criminal defense attorney can guide you through the lengthy process and craft the strong defense strategy that you will need. Knowing more about the crime and potential outcomes of your case can help you to understand the charges you are facing and what your defense options may be. 

What is racketeering?

Congress passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) in 1970. RICO was created to prevent organized crime and mafia operations and fraudulent business dealings known as “racketeering.” 

Racketeering can involve many different crimes, but common ones include drug distribution, money laundering, and murder. 

The three federal RICO-related offenses that a defendant can be charged with are:

  1. Leading or participating in an enterprise that engages in racketeering
  2. Gaining or maintaining interest in an enterprise via racketeering 
  3. Investing proceeds obtained through racketeering

Any time a criminal case makes it to court, the prosecution must show that certain facts of the case were true. These are known as the “elements of the crime.” In order for a defendant to be found guilty under RICO, the prosecutor needs to show that the defendant:

  • Was involved in a criminal enterprise (such as an organized crime group or mafia), AND
  • Carried out at least two (2) crimes from the list of crimes that constitute racketeering activity within the past ten (10) years while taking part in the organized crime group.

What is an example of racketeering?

Racketeering is a type of criminal activity that involves an unlawful act committed for the purpose of obtaining money or property. Examples of racketeering can include extortion, money laundering, embezzlement and fraud. Racketeering is often associated with organized crime, and can be punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Money laundering is an example of racketeering. It is the process of making “dirty” money ( is any money that has been obtained through illegal means) look clean.

Money is laundered by going through a series of financial transactions. This can be done by moving the money through multiple bank accounts, using it to purchase assets, or investing it in legitimate businesses. Money laundering can be used to hide the source of the money, and it is a crime in many jurisdictions.

What are the Different Types of Racketeering?

There are many different types of racketeering, but some of the most common include:

  1. Extortion: This is when someone obtains money or property from another person through force or threats.
  2. Bribery: This is when someone gives money or property to another person in exchange for a favor.
  3. Money laundering: This is when someone tries to hide the illegal source of their money by moving it through a series of legal transactions.
  4. Gambling: This is when someone operates an illegal gambling operation.
  5. Drug trafficking: This is when someone sells or transports illegal drugs.

Racketeering laws in California

In addition to the federal RICO Act, California also has its own California Control of Profits of Organized Crime Act under California Penal Code 186

This law aims to punish organized criminal activity and offenses carried out for the illegal benefit of a criminal organization. Under this statute, the state of California can seize any property or proceeds gained by an organization or individual who is part of an organization through criminal profiteering activity. 

Penalties for a RICO conviction

Penalties for federal RICO convictions are severe and may include:

  • A prison sentence of up to twenty (20) years or life (if the defendant was charged with certain crimes such as murder as part of their racketeering offense).
  • A fine of up to $250,000 or twice the proceeds of the offense
  • Mandatory forfeiture of all property, proceeds, and property obtained from the proceeds of the crime as well as any interest the defendant holds in the criminal enterprise (for all RICO convictions).

In California, the penalties for offenses under Penal Code 186 depend on the unique facts of the case, including the seriousness and number of crimes committed and the defendant’s criminal record. Potential penalties for a California Penal Code 186 violation may include:

  • A prison sentence of up to 20 years
  • House arrest
  • Fines
  • Forfeiture of property, proceeds, and property gained through proceeds of the crime
  • Probation
  • Compensation of 3 times the damage caused to victim(s)

Legal defenses against racketeering charges 

Whether charged under the federal RICO Act or the California Control of Profits and Organized Crime Act, racketeering charges come with a lengthy and challenging judicial process. 

Defendant’s may be asked to provide testimony to the prosecution as well as turn over documents or anything else that could provide the prosecution with evidence of their participation in a criminal organization. It is essential that anyone who is charged with racketeering have a dedicated criminal defense attorney to assist them through the process and fight on their behalf. 

The best defense strategy is one that is tailored by an attorney to best represent the individual client and the facts of their case based on. Below are some of the common defenses against racketeering charges that an attorney might deem appropriate after carefully examining all of the relevant evidence.

  • No pattern of criminal activity: In order to convict someone of racketeering, the prosecution must prove that you committed at least two crimes related to a criminal organization in the past ten years related to your affiliation with a criminal organization. If you can provide evidence that you did not commit the alleged crimes or that they were not related to the activity of the alleged criminal organization, you may not be convicted under RICO.
  • Lack of involvement in a criminal organization: Just as the prosecution must prove a pattern of criminal activity related to a criminal organization, they must also prove that you have been affiliated with a criminal organization.
  • Insufficient evidence: Whether you are charged under RICO or California Penal Code 186, the evidence brought against you is insufficient to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, you may beat the allegations brought against you.
  • Illegal search and seizure: There are protocols that law enforcement agents must follow when conducting searches or obtaining evidence. If the evidence brought against you was obtained illegally, the prosecution may not be able to use it in their case against you.

Los Angeles racketeering defense attorney

If you or someone you know is facing racketeering charges, you need a knowledgeable and dedicated criminal defense attorney who can assist you through the process and create an aggressive defense against the allegations. 

As a criminal defense attorney with more than four decades experience representing clients in both federal and California state cases, Robert M. Helfend can be the strong legal ally you need. Call today for your free consultation – 800-834-6434.