RICO Defense Lawyer in Fort Myers
Our Racketeering attorney can help you battle your charges
In November of 2022, Florida’s largest homeowners association made headlines when the group was charged with racketeering. A crime most people associate with crime rings, racketeering is a series of criminal acts that involve a racket. A racket is a business scheme that is organized for the purpose of making an illegal profit. Depending on the facts of the case, individuals who are accused of racketeering can face federal and state charges. At the center of these charges are organizations that may involve people who are unaware of the illegal activity. Fort Myers residents who are accused of racketeering should immediately contact an experienced RICO Defense attorney who specializes in federal and state racketeering cases.
How rackets work
Rackets are illegal businesses that organizations set up to carry out unlawful activities. These businesses usually operate in specific illegal industries such as:
- human trafficking
- illegal drug trade
- illegal weapons trade
The daily operations of these illegal businesses usually involve a series of crimes perpetrated by members of the organization to move the scheme forward. Rackets can take many forms. Some popular examples include:
- cyberextortion schemes in which criminals hack into computers and block user access, demanding payment in exchange for restoring access
- protection rackets through which criminals threaten business owners if they do not hire the organization to provide security or protection from crime
- kidnapping and demanding ransom
- fencing stolen goods by buying from thieves and reselling to unsuspecting buyers
- producing, trafficking and/or selling drugs
- operating underground casinos, card rooms, sports books and gambling rings
Do not say anything that might incriminate you. Speak with an attorney first.
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act
In 1970, Congress passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The new law made it possible for the federal government to combat organized crime by prosecuting members of criminal groups and assessing civil penalties for racketeering activities. To obtain a conviction under the federal RICO statute, prosecutors must prove the defendant engaged in racketeering activity on two or more occasions within a period of 10 years and that the defendant was directly invested in, participated in, or maintained an interest in a criminal enterprise that affected interstate or international commerce. Some of the most notorious groups with members who have been convicted under the federal RICO statute have included the mafia and popular motorcycle gang along with many other groups. The federal statute provides a list of 35 offenses that may be considered racketeering activity. Some examples include:
- dealing in obscene matter
- dealing a controlled substance or chemical listed in the Controlled Substance Act which is punishable by more than a one-year prison sentence
- the sale of citizenship papers
- witness, victim or informant tampering
- obstruction of justice
- mail fraud
Florida’s racketeering law
Florida’s legislators deliberately designed the state RICO statute to mirror the federal law. Nevertheless, there are key differences between the two statutes. Florida’s RICO law has a longer statute of limitations. The federal statute does not specify a statute of limitations; however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal and civil RICO lawsuits must be filed within four years of the date the plaintiff discovered the harm. Florida’s RICO law specifies a statute of limitations of five years.
Another key difference between the two laws is Florida’s standard of proof is higher than the standard of proof for the federal RICO law. Federal prosecutors must meet the “preponderance of the evidence” standard. Florida courts apply the “clear and convincing evidence” standard. A knowledgeable Fort Myers RICO defense attorney understands the difference between the two standards and is able to devise the most appropriate defense for each client, depending on the facts of each individual case.
Who investigates RICO violations
Federal agencies investigate potential federal RICO statute violations. Depending on the nature of the case, the investigating agency may be:
- Border Patrol
- Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
- Department of Homeland Security
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF)
- Secret Service
State RICO cases can be investigated by the respective state, county, and local law enforcement agencies. RICO violations are solely state crimes if the criminal activity only occurs within one state’s geographical boundaries and if the activity does not affect interstate or international commerce.
Civil RICO cases
The federal RICO statute allows individuals whose property was damaged by a racketeer to file a civil court claim against the racketeer. The plaintiff may receive a judgment in his or her favor if he or she proves a criminal enterprise existed. The plaintiff must prove the defendant either invested the proceeds of the racketeering activity, acquired or maintained control of the criminal enterprise, conducted or participated in the enterprise’s affairs, or conspired to invest the proceeds, acquire or maintain control of the enterprise, or participate in the enterprise’s affairs. Plaintiffs may file civil RICO claims in state or federal court. Treble damages may be awarded in both civil and criminal RICO court actions. Treble damages are triple the amount of actual and compensatory damages.
Asset seizure and RICO charges
U.S. Attorneys who bring charges against someone under the federal RICO statute make seek a pretrial injunction or restraining order to seize the defendant’s property and preserve potentially forfeitable property. Prosecutors can also require the defendant to put up a performance bond to ensure there is property left that can be seized if the defendant is later convicted. RICO charges often result in defendants pleading guilty to lesser charges to avoid asset seizure that would make it difficult for the defendant to pay a lawyer. Fort Myers racketeering defense lawyers are available to advise defendants of their legal options and potentially helped accused parties protect their assets.
Retaining a RICO defense attorney
With a serious crime like racketeering, the state and federal charges can add up very quickly. Therefore, individuals who are under investigation for possibly violating the RICO statute should immediately seek legal counsel. We are experienced in representing defendants in state and federal RICO cases. Our Fort Myers racketeering defense attorney is dedicated to protecting the rights of the accused. Contact us today to receive a free, confidential case evaluation.