The RICO Act and Its Prosecutions: A Dive Into its History and Importance

by LegalFix
Posted: April 19, 2024

When people think about organized crime in America, images of mob bosses, gangsters, and illegal rackets often come to mind. But how has the US government been so successful in prosecuting these organized crime figures? One of the most powerful tools in their arsenal is the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, more commonly known as the RICO Act or simply RICO. Today, we’ll shed light on the history of this statute and some notable prosecutions to help you understand what the Act can mean to you. 

Understanding the RICO Act

The RICO Act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970. The primary aim of the legislation was to combat the influence of organized crime on the economy. Organized crime had infiltrated legitimate businesses, corrupting them from within and using them as fronts for illegal activities. This legal statute, codified as Chapter 96 of Title 18 of the United States Code, made it easier to prosecute leaders of organized crime syndicates who might not have directly committed crimes but ordered others to do so. 

Key Provisions

The RICO statute targets patterns of racketeering by organizations. This means that if a person commits at least two acts of racketeering activity within a 10-year period (from a list of 35 crimes, including gambling, bribery, kidnapping, and more), they can be charged under RICO if these acts are related to the functioning of an enterprise. 

Crucially, RICO allows for both criminal and civil penalties. This means that not only can offenders face jail time, but they can also be sued by those harmed by their actions, potentially leading to the forfeiture of ill-gotten gains. 

Notable Prosecutions

Since its inception, the RICO Act has been used in numerous high-profile cases. 

Mob Prosecutions

One of the most famous uses of the RICO Act was the prosecution of major mafia figures in the 1980s. The heads of New York City's Five Families were indicted under the act in 1985, which led to several convictions and greatly weakened the power of the mafia in the US.

White-Collar Crime

Beyond organized crime, RICO has been used to target white-collar criminals and corrupt organizations. For instance, Michael Milken, a financier and high-yield “junk bond” king, was indicted on RICO charges in the late 1980s.

RICO has also been employed in cases against corrupt police departments, gang leaders, and even politicians.

The Importance of Legal Representation

The RICO Act is a powerful tool, and its wide scope means that individuals can sometimes be swept up in investigations and prosecutions, even if their involvement is peripheral. This underscores the importance of having access to competent legal representation, especially in complex criminal matters.

Affordable access to a criminal defense attorney is not just a luxury—it's a fundamental right. In the US, the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel. Yet, many people believe that they should only seek legal counsel once they've been charged with a crime. This can be a critical misstep. Early legal intervention can make a significant difference in the outcome of a case, including the potential to prevent charges from being filed at all.

Know the Laws with LegalFix

The RICO statute has reshaped the landscape of criminal prosecution in the US, especially concerning organized crime. However, as with all powerful tools, it comes with significant responsibilities and potential for misuse. It's vital for individuals—whether they are directly involved or merely tangentially related to a RICO case—to understand their rights and have access to affordable, competent legal representation. This ensures not only the protection of individual rights but also the integrity of our justice system.

Whether you want to learn more about the RICO Act or just want a better understanding of how our legal system works, LegalFix is your go-to source for free legal information. You can find helpful articles and state-specific explanations of nearly 1,600 legal topics and browse the state and federal statutes to better understand the laws that affect you. Just visit to find all this content—and check back often for more valuable legal products and services coming soon.