Most criminal charges have a definition that is easy for ordinary people to understand. The intentional damage or destruction of property is vandalism. Taking property belonging to someone else is theft. Misdirecting assets entrusted to a person’s care is embezzlement. There may be legal nuances, but the basics are pretty straightforward.
Racketeering is more difficult to understand because it is not a single illegal act. Rather, it is participation in a scheme that includes multiple illegal acts. The Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act defines offenses for which courts can file charges of racketeering if committed together.
There are several criteria that prosecutors have to prove to convict someone of racketeering. They have to prove that the individual facing charges participated in at least two acts of racketeering activity as defined by the RICO Act while part of a criminal enterprise. In other words, the prosecutors have to prove that the individual was part of an organization engaging in significant criminal activity.
Another key criterion of a racketeering charge is interstate commerce. In other words, the activity had to affect the sale or movement of money, goods or services across state borders.
Altogether, the RICO Act describes 35 different charges that racketeering may involve, including:
Prosecutors must establish a pattern of offenses such as these by the individual as part of a criminal enterprise.
Passed in 1970, the purpose of the RICO Act was originally combatting organized crime. However, one does not have to be a member of the Mafia to face prosecution under the RICO Act. The wording of the law is broad enough to include a number of organizations.