In 1970, the US Congress passed the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act to combat racketeering in Illinois and across America. This is a type of white collar, organized crime where illegal organizations use legitimate businesses to embezzle funds and engage in a variety of criminal activities that can include conspiracy and many other crimes. The activities covered by this law typically involve things such as human trafficking, drug trafficking and weapons trafficking, among others.
It is important to note that racketeering, by definition, requires at least two people to conspire to carry out the illegal activity. As conspiracy is a crime that is non-merging – it does not fall away and become a part of the committed crime – a person charged in Illinois with racketeering also is charged with conspiracy.
Activities that are targeted under the RICO Act in Illinois include:
- The use of money earned from racketeering to acquire, establish or operate any business related to interstate commerce
- Acquiring or maintaining interest in any business through racketeering
- Conducting legal or illegal affairs of a company through any racketeering activity
- Engage in conspiracy to do any of the above
To successfully be prosecuted for RICO conspiracy in Illinois, the prosecutor must prove the following:
- An established pattern of racketeering. For instance, if members of a gang are engaged in drug trafficking and also purchased guns and assaulted people to protect their turf, this is probably racketeering
- A criminal business or enterprise. For the gang to be criminal in nature, some members of the gang must be working together over time and one person in that group must be able to render decisions for the group totally
- It has an effect on interstate commerce
Illinois RICO Laws and Penalties
The original RICO Act was put into effect mainly to control crimes committed by the mafia in Illinois and many other states. The crimes covered usually involved murder, gambling, kidnapping, arson, bribery, extortion, robbery and conspiracy to commit these crimes. Other common crimes covered included bribery and counterfeiting, fraud and obstruction of justice. Today, the law has been extended so that it includes sexual exploitation of children and fraud pertaining to illegal immigration.
In Illinois, RICO crimes that relate to conspiracy and most other crimes are a class X felony and can get you a sentence of one to 20 years in prison. Depending upon crime circumstances, the judge can impose a fine of up to $250,000. Some charges for class U felonies may be serious enough to warrant a 30 year prison term.
Racketeering and conspiracy in Illinois also can be punished by life in prison, if the predicate crime has such a possible sentence. The court also may impose a fine double of the illegal profits. The RICO Act also allows for forfeiture of assets earned through racketeering conspiracy. This means the US and state government may have legal title to said assets.
State and federal law also allow for civil lawsuits to be filed by citizens who suffered financial damages due to the racketeering conspiracy.
Illinois RICO Racketeering Penalties
Penalties in the state for racketeering and conspiracy, as noted above, are severe. The penalty depends upon the factors of the case; the judge or jury will consider matters such as your previous convictions, whether you are on parole or probation, the level of media attention the case has received and other circumstances. At least, if you are found guilty of racketeering in Illinois, you will face a long term in prison, loss of assets, and need to pay restitution to victims.
Street Gang and Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Law
A new law in Illinois to be aware of in this area is the Street Gang and Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Law. This law has authorized local authorities in Illinois aggressively prosecute street gangs and organizations that supporters and police say are increasing the ability to fight organized crime in Chicago. The new law lists many crimes, such as conspiracy, murder for hire, kidnapping and sex trafficking and also allows state prosecutors to connect individual crimes to others. It also has enhanced penalties for these types of crimes involving street gangs.
As of 2018, the law has only been used to obtain guilty verdicts for six members of a Chicago gang called the Black Souls. This law was just extended for another five years, but could eventually be repealed, if the legislature does not extend it again.
Statute of Limitations in Illinois
The RICO Act does not have a time limit it it. But the US Supreme Court reviewed the law in recent years and adopted a four year statute of limitations that is featured on the Clayton Act. The court based this upon the fact that the Clayton Act is similar to the RICO Act in its structure and overall purpose. Before this decision, courts needed to decide on statute of limitations matters that could have applied to the specific case. It was a very complex matter that left a great deal of confusion.
Defenses for Racketeering and Conspiracy in Illinois
If you have been charged with RICO conspiracy in this state, you should not assume the US or state government will convict you. The standard that must be met is beyond a reasonable doubt. This means the state or federal prosecutor must show such strong evidence there is no possible explanation that can be had for the case other than that you are guilty. Depending upon the facts of the case, your defense attorney may attempt the following defense strategies:
- Have evidence excluded if it was obtained illegally by law enforcement; this is called the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine
- Introduce evidence proving you had no knowledge of the racketeering and conspiracy
- Raise reasonable doubt about you committing the crime
RICO Conspiracy Cases
- Appellate Court Ruling Strikes Blow to RICO Case: Lake County IL prosecutors are turning to the IL Supreme Court hoping that this once highly publicized racketeering case can be saved. A state appellate court gave the case a blow recently by backing another court’s decision that rules the police improperly completed paperwork to get wiretaps.
- State Farm To Face Claims It Helped Elect Favorable Judge: A federal judge has declined to throw out a racketeering lawsuit in East St. Louis IL that claimed the company spent as much as $4 million on an Illinois judge campaign who later voted to overturn an award of $1 billion to the policyholders of the company.
- Jurors Listen to Gruesome Details at Black Souls Racketeering Trial: Fifteen years after the fact, jurors heard gruesome details of a murder done by six high-ranking members of the Black Souls criminal gang. It was the first ever racketeering trial conducted under the new state RICO law.