The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) was passed in 1970. Its initial purpose was to combat organized crime in the United States. For example, the various “families” and other organized groups from New York to Los Angeles that the federal government had designated as “the mafia.” It allows for the prosecution of racketeering activity performed as a part of an ongoing criminal enterprise.
While most RICO cases are related to organized crime, the sweeping statute has expanded its reach to include other organizations not normally associated with organized crime. The following is a brief discussion about some surprising people and organizations that have run afoul of RICO.
Names You Wouldn’t Expect to Face RICO Charges
According to a May 16, 2017 Inquisitir report, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has secured a sealed indictment against President Trump for his alleged ties to the Russian mob. Whether the report is true or not, it illustrates how even prominent and powerful individuals can find themselves subject to RICO investigations. If indicted and convicted of these charges, it could result in the president’s imprisonment and removal from office. Trump has been involved in other legal trouble over the years, but possible RICO charges would be the most serious to date.
Major League Baseball.
In 2002, the former owners of the Montreal Expos baseball team filed charges against Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and former Expo owner Jeffrey Loria under the RICO act. The minority owners claimed that Selig and Loria conspired to devalue the Montreal Expos for personal benefit, such that the Expos could be moved from Montreal to Washington.
If Major League Baseball had been found liable, it would have had to pay out $300 million in damages. However, these charges were vehemently contested in both the courtroom and the public arena.
The case lasted for two years, stalling the team’s move from Montreal to Washington. Ultimately the case went to arbitration and the MLB received a favorable decision.
The controversial environmental organization Greenpeace has had its share of legal troubles over the years. However, in 2016 Greenpeace was brought up on RICO charges, which are some of the more severe the organization has faced to date. These charges are still pending as of publication.
The Canadian company Resolute Forest Products is the world’s largest producer of newsprint, and has repeatedly been criticized and attacked by Greenpeace. Resolute Forest Products first filed a defamation case in Canadian courts, but ultimately filed racketeering charges against Greenpeace in U.S. courts.
Resolute alleges that Greenpeace has targeted Resolute’s customers with extortive threats and other illegal conduct, and that to identify the customers, Greenpeace agents have impersonated Resolute employees to illegally obtain proprietary customer and supply chain information. This story is still developing, so it is unclear if Greenpeace will be found guilty of these charges.
The Catholic Church.
In recent years, the Catholic Church has faced an international scandal regarding allegations of sexual abuse by clergy members. Moreover, there is ample evidence that the Church sought to cover up these abuses on multiple occasions. Many charges have been brought against the Church surrounding this scandal, including RICO charges in some jurisdictions.
In this suit, U.S. bishops were accused of conspiracy to cover up sexual abuses. Specifically, the bishops were accused of concealment of criminal conduct, particularly the use of wires to commit fraudulent concealment of secret files. The Catholic Church was also accused of using secret bribery settlements with victims to cover up abuses.
Ultimately the RICO charges were dropped, but the grave nature of the charges fueled worldwide criticism of the Church.
Los Angeles Police Department.
In 2000, a federal judge ruled that the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) could be sued as a racketeering enterprise in relation to the Rampart Scandal, which inspired the TV show The Shield. In this scandal, more than 70 police officers were implicated in a plethora of misconduct, including unprovoked shootings and beatings, planting of false evidence, bank robberies, and illegally covering up these activities.
However, in 2001, another federal judge ruled that RICO charges were not applicable, because the charges were related to personal injury rather than financial gain. As a result, the LAPD was brought up on numerous other charges of federal fraud surrounding this case.
In 1994, RICO charges were successfully brought up against pro-life activists in NOW v. Scheidler. In this suit, pro-choice parties, including the National Organization for Women, sought damages against pro-life activists who physically blocked access to abortion clinics.
In this case, the Court held that economic gain was not necessary for RICO charges to apply, and that the Pro-Life Action Network could therefore be considered a racketeering organization.
RICO charges can potentially be brought against anyone – against any organization. If you are under investigation or have been charged under RICO, it is imperative that you reach out to an experienced criminal attorney and fight back.