Philadelphia criminal defense and civil rights attorney Lauren A. Wimmer has been selected to the 2019 Pennsylvania Rising Stars list. Each year, no more than 2.5 percent of the lawyers in the state are selected by the research team at Super Lawyers to receive this honor. Super Lawyers, a Thomson Reuters business, is a rating…
Philadelphia Organized Crime Defense Attorney
Defending Against a Variety of Federal Organized Crime Charges
While many people are familiar with the idea of organized crime from the movies, they may not realize that, in reality, this is a very real and very serious federal criminal matter. Charges stemming from organized crime often involve long-term investigations, multiple defendants facing multiple charges, potential imprisonment for years, defendants cooperating with the prosecutor, and many other factors.
If you are under investigating or have been arrested by federal authorities as part of an organized crime operation, you need the right defense representation immediately. You want an attorney who has the experience and skill to defend against these harsh charges and protect your rights. Call Wimmer Criminal Defense Law in Philadelphia right away.
What Constitutes Organized Crime?
Organized crime refers to a centralized criminal enterprise intended for its members to engage in unlawful activity, usually for illegal profit. The Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 defined organized crime as unlawful activities of a “highly organized, disciplined association” of individuals.
These groups can be local, national, or transnational. Some organized crime groups have political motivations, while others may engage in the extortion of local businesses for loyalty. Historically, organized crime groups have been referred to as the mob, mafia, or crime syndicate. However, in recent years, organized members of street gangs and drug cartels have also been prosecuted as participants of organized crime. In fact, a recent report cited Mexican drug cartels as the greatest organized crime threat to the U.S. in our current society.
The structured criminal acts performed by members of crime organizations is called racketeering. As part of the Organized Crime Control Act, Congress also passed the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law. Prior to this law, federal prosecutors only had the ability to issue mob-related charges individually based on which specific people committed each crime, despite the fact that many crimes were organized by many people. One person might be prosecuted, but the rest of the organization remained intact. RICO allowed for charges to be issued against everyone involved in a crime organization in certain circumstances, which meant that prosecutors could charge leaders of the group giving orders, as well as the lower members who actually carried out the crimes. For this reason, RICO cases are often extremely complex and involve many different defendants.
Members of mobs, cartels, gangs, and even corrupt police departments or corporations can face charges of RICO violations if they engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity stemming from a criminal enterprise. There are 35 different offenses that may qualify as racketeering activity, also called “predicate offenses.” To be accused of a RICO violation, a crime organization must engage two or more of the predicate offenses within a ten-year period of time. These federal offenses include the following:
- Trafficking counterfeit goods
- Money laundering
- Embezzlement, including of union funds
- Sports bribery
- Alien smuggling
- Drug trafficking
- Theft of property during interstate transportation
- Transporting stolen property over state lines
- Mail fraud
- Wire fraud
- Sexual exploitation of children
- Murder for hire
- Obstruction of justice
Some state offenses can also constitute predicate offenses for RICO purposes, including:
- Drug crimes
If an individual commits two of the above offenses on their own without any organized crime involvement, they cannot be charged with RICO violations. The existence of a criminal enterprise is essential, and then a prosecutor can charge anyone involved in the enterprise.
Penalties for RICO Violations
Convictions for RICO violations come with extremely serious penalties. The RICO charge on its own can mean the following:
- 20 years in prison
- Additional prison time up to a life sentence depending on the underlying offenses
- A fine of $250,000 or twice the amount of any profit earned from the criminal activity
- Forfeiture of each individual’s interest in the enterprise, including any money or property connected to any of the criminal activity
In addition to the criminal penalties, there is also often civil liability for RICO violations. Once someone is convicted of a violation, it is very likely that anyone injured by the RICO offenses will file a civil lawsuit to seek treble damages. A criminal conviction can significantly help plaintiffs succeed in these claims.
Defending against RICO Allegations
There are many specific elements a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to convict one or more individuals of RICO charges. If your defense attorney successfully challenges any of these elements, you should not be convicted of organized crime activity. Defenses can include claiming that:
- There was not a pattern of predicate offenses
- There was no criminal enterprise directing the activity
For example, if a sting operation uncovered a drug trafficking scheme based on a one-time transaction, they might not have any evidence of another instance of a predicate offense. While drug trafficking charges may apply, RICO violation charges should not as there is not evidence of racketeering.
On the other hand, say authorities arrested an individual who is accused of drug trafficking, bank robbery, and extortion. However, there is no evidence that the individual was acting as part of a larger criminal organization. The individual might face serious federal charges, but should not be charged for violating RICO, as there is no enterprise.
There also may be constitutional violations committed by federal authorities that may allow your defense attorney to suppress evidence against you. There may also be an opportunity for you to cooperate with prosecutors and give them valuable information regarding the enterprise and other members to lessen your ultimate sentence.
Contact a Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer in Philadelphia as Soon as Possible
Wimmer Criminal Defense Law knows that every RICO violation and any other federal criminal charge is a serious matter. Defense attorney Lauren Wimmer regularly handles tough cases in both state and federal criminal court, and you can trust she will protect your rights and work for the most favorable outcome possible in even the most complex case. Please call 215-712-1212 or contact us online to learn how we can help.
If you are facing a potential organized crime charge
The criminal defense attorneys of Wimmer Criminal Defense may be able to provide representation during proceedings. To schedule a free and confidential case review, call today