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Similar to the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, Florida’s law against racketeering is a useful vehicle prosecutors can leverage to prosecute criminal organizations. Under the state RICO law, a prosecutor can use past criminal convictions to charge gangs and other criminal groups with a new offense. However, there are several elements the state must prove before a court will convict a defendant under the RICO statute. If you are someone you know is facing a racketeering charge, you need an experienced Fort Pierce RICO defense attorney to ensure that your rights are protected.

What must be proven in a RICO case?

Florida’s racketeering statute makes it illegal to participate in a racket or illegal business. To obtain a conviction on a racketeering charge, a state prosecutor must prove:

  • the accused party was associated with an enterprise
  • the accused participated in the racket by engaging in at least two instances of racketeering activity
  • at least two of the racketeering activities in which the accused engaged had similar victims, intents, results, accomplices, methods of commission, or were interrelated by distinguishing characteristics that were not isolated incidents

Florida law defines racketeering as the commission of, an attempt to commit, conspiracy to commit, a solicitation to commit, coercion to commit, or intimidating someone else to commit a criminal act listed in Florida Statute Section 895.2(1)(a). Some of the criminal acts listed in Florida’s racketeering statute includes:

  • bribery
  • fraud
  • mail fraud
  • counterfeiting
  • money laundering
  • gambling
  • embezzlement
  • mail fraud
  • extortion
  • arson
  • murder
  • robbery
  • tax evasion

Prosecutors in Florida racketeering cases must prove the defendant engaged in a “pattern of racketeering activities.” A defendant has engaged in a pattern of racketeering activities if he or she has committed at least two related or similar offenses identified in the racketeering statute. At least one of the offenses must have occurred after October 1, 1977. The statute requires the last of the offenses to have occurred within five years of a prior occasion of racketeering-related activity.

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Racketeering enterprises in Fort Pierce

A racketeering enterprise is a business or organization that uses threats, coercion, violence, intimidation or solicitations to influence another person to engage in criminal activity.
The term “organized” crime is often associated with racketeering. Examples of racketeering enterprises include:

  • gambling rings
  • dogfighting events
  • illegal lotteries
  • hitman operations
  • money laundering
  • loan sharking
  • fraud rings
  • counterfeiting operations

Financial involvement with Florida racketeering enterprises

Not only is it illegal to own and operate a racketeering enterprise, but Florida law also criminalizes financial involvement with a racketeering enterprise. An individual may face racketeering charges if he or she:

  • Uses or invests any part of the proceeds from a pattern of racketeering activity
  • Collects unlawful debt in relation to a racketeering enterprise
  • Works for or is associated with a racketeering enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity or in the collection of an illegal debt
  • Conspires or attempts to violate laws against being financially involved with a racketeering enterprise

The water more easily becomes murky for people who may be unknowingly engaging financially with a criminal enterprise. For example, someone may invest money in a friend’s business without knowing the business is a criminal enterprise. When the enterprise owner pays a return on the investment, the investor may appear to have been involved in illegal activity. Similarly, a member of a racketeering enterprise may give money from the enterprise to a friend or family member. If a law enforcement agency investigates the enterprise, law enforcement may also investigate the friend or family member in connection to the racketeering case.

Defenses to racketeering charges

There are several defenses a federal defense lawyer in Fort Pierce can argue in a Florida racketeering case. Some of the most common defenses are:

  • lack of knowledge
  • statute of limitations
  • lack of pattern
  • withdrawal from enterprise
  • entrapment
  • duress

The court may not convict an individual on a racketeering charge if the individual had no knowledge of the criminal enterprise. This defense covers friends and family members who may unknowingly receive money from someone else’s criminal enterprise. Similarly, employees who work for a business that appears to be legitimate from the workers’ perspective may also avoid conviction by arguing they had no knowledge of the illegality.

The racketeering law requires a very specific timeline of events. If the prosecution files charges more than five years after the racketeering activities took place, the court cannot convict the defendant for racketeering. In addition to the five year statute of limitations, the prosecutor must also prove the defendant engaged in a pattern. If the defendant has not at least two related racketeering offenses within five years of each other, the court must acquit the defendant.

A defendant who may have been involved in a criminal enterprise in the past may avoid conviction for racketeering if he or she can prove he or she withdrew from the enterprise. For example, someone who partly owned a criminal enterprise cannot be convicted of racketeering if he or she no longer owned or participated in the enterprise at the time he or she engaged in the alleged criminal acts. Therefore, even if the defendant committed two similar crimes like drug trafficking and money laundering, conviction for racketeering is unlikely if the individual had no connection with the suspected criminal enterprise at the time the crimes took place.

Contacting a Fort Pierce racketeering defense attorney

Racketeering is a serious offense that can damage your reputation or cause you to go to prison. Accusations of racketeering can affect business owners by causing potential customers, partners, and investors to question the business’ legitimacy. If you’ve been accused of involvement with a racketeering enterprise, it’s never too early to contact a Fort Pierce defense attorney. Getting counsel on the case early may afford you more legal options and allow you to protect your reputation and your business.

We provide legal counsel and representation at all stages in the investigative and criminal court processes. Whether a law enforcement agency has requested to speak with you or if you are currently facing a formal racketeering charge in a Florida court, contact us today. A member of our team will evaluate the facts of your case and inform you about ways we can help.


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