Criminal Law

Racketeering: Organized Criminal Activities

When you think about the term racketeering, you might immediately think about the mob or Mafia. However, it can really be applied to any activity run in an organized way. Law enforcement tries to stop the activities by cutting off the money supply. 

Basically, it's a structured criminal organization doing illegal activities in multiple states and often countries.

Criminal Acts Involved in Racketeering

A racket can have several forms. It may involve an illegal business. Or a legal business in which the organization breaks the law to help it succeed. Many crimes support a racketeering charge. Some examples include:

  • Murder
  • Kidnapping
  • Gambling
  • Arson
  • Robbery
  • Bribery
  • Loan sharking
  • Extortion
  • Counterfeiting
  • Theft
  • Embezzlement
  • Fraud
  • Drug trafficking

A lawful business may cover the racket's illegal acts. Everything appears lawful. For example, theft or extortion behind the scenes at a legal casino.

Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO)

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act is a federal law passed to fight racketeering. It's called RICO for short. The basis for many charges against organized crime members is RICO.

Under RICO, an organization member can be charged with racketeering for pattern of criminal activity. This activity can be one of the many numerous acts that'll support a racketeering charge. A pattern is made up of at least two activities within ten years.


While there are many ways to commit this crime, some are more common. Two main types are:

  • Protection racketeering
  • Labor racketeering

Protection Racketeering

Protection racketeering is when a criminal organization coerces someone to pay money for protection. Often the organization's members provide the protection from harm coming from not paying the protection fee. Extortion is unlawfully obtaining money by coercion.

Labor Racketeering

Labor racketeering is illegally using unions or employee benefit plans for personal profit. Organizations may bribe and coerce union officials for control of workers' benefit plan funds. Labor costs go up, and consumers and workers pay in the end.

Penalties and Punishment

Punishment for racketeering depends on facts surrounding the crime. Aggravating factors are those that increase the seriousness of the crime. Punishments may include:

  • Fines
  • Prison time 
  • Probation
  • Forfeiting profits from illegal activities

RICO allows private citizens to sue for money losses caused by racketeering. Damages can be up to three times what the actual loss was. This larger amount is allowed as a punishment for the crime.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Is repeated shoplifting with my friend a "pattern" under RICO?
  • If a married couple attempts to extort money from others, are they guilty of racketeering?
  • If I run an illegal business alone, is it racketeering?
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