RICO, Money Laundering and Public Corruption

Article excerpt

Initially, Congress enacted the Racketeer Influenced, and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) as a means of providing federal criminal jurisdiction for the prosecution of organized crime and its activities in the United States. Essentially, RICO, 18 U.S.C. 1961 et seq., provides for the criminal prosecution and appropriate punitive sanctions, as well as the civil forfeiture and recovery of tangible property and assets resulting from RICO activities.

The purpose of RICO was to protect the public from "parties who conduct organizations affecting interstate commerce through a pattern of criminal activity" by providing the federal means to both prosecute criminal offenders, and seek restitution by the civil recovery and forfeiture of illegally obtained assets. The targets of the RICO statutes were organized crime, white collar criminals, terrorists and abortion clinic protestors engaged in violent criminal activities.

The elements relevant to successful RICO prosecutions and civil forfeiture actions generally require an enterprise (or legal partnership, corporation or association) engaged in a pattern of specific conduct that is criminal in nature. This conduct has elements requiring acquisition and maintenance, use or investment, participation or activity, or a conspiracy to gain through illegal sources monetary funds or other tangible property.

The prosecutorial use of the RICO statutes has been credited with the reduction of organized crime in the United States, and has resulted in severe sanctions, prison terms, and civil losses and forfeiture of property by criminal families, drug cartels and other criminal organizations prosecuted under these statutes.

The RICO statutes have also been very effective in the prosecution of white collar and economic crimes involving medical fraud, corruption by elected and appointed public officials, securities fraud, criminal acts against banks and other financial institutions, and fraudulent activities to the detriment of employee benefit, medical and pension funds. RICO has proven to be a very versatile and valuable tool for federal prosecutors dealing with economic and white collar crime within the jurisdiction of this act.

Often involved, and an integral part of federal RICO criminal prosecutions, are offenses related to money laundering. Money laundering is defined as the concealment of the existence, nature or illegal source of funds in such a manner that the funds will appear to be legitimate if discovered.

In essence, money laundering is the conscious intent and effort to create the appearance that illegally obtained monies (through drugs, extortion, bribery, etc.) were the result of legal activities or commercial enterprises. As the term specifically states, money laundering is activity intended to cleanse and eradicate the unsavory and illegal source from where it came.

Congress has enacted numerous federal statutes that provide federal jurisdiction for the prosecution of criminal offenses involving these attempts to portray illegally obtained monies as having legitimate business or other non-criminal sources. The offenses that comprise criminal money laundering under federal law fall into two categories.

The first category places specific emphasis on the reporting of the source of these monies of questionable if not illegal origin. The second category of a money laundering criminal offense places emphasis on the transportation, or movement, of these monies of questionable if not illegal origin.

The Federal Bank Act of 1970 requires the reporting of certain cash transactions. 31 U.S.C. 5313 requires domestic banks and other financial institutions to file reports on cash transactions of $10,000 or more. 31 U.S.C. 5324 prohibits the structuring or breaking down of cash transactions under the $10,000.00 jurisdictional amount of 31 U.S.C. 5313 for the purpose of evading the reporting requirements of that federal statute. …