Racketeering and Conspiracy
One of the tools prosecutors frequently use to pressure defendants into pleading guilty, especially in the federal system, is to add conspiracy charges to the list of offenses. This potentially adds many years to a prison sentence if the accused is convicted, and many defendants would rather plead guilty to a lesser offense rather than face a harsher sentence (commonly known as the “trial tax”) if they lose at trial. In addition, it is often easier to get a conviction on the conspiracy charge than it is on the underlying substantive offense.
Generally speaking, all that is required to establish a conspiracy is an agreement (verbal or otherwise) between two or more persons to engage in a criminal act or activity, plus the commission of one or more predicate acts, or crimes committed in furtherance of the aims of the conspiracy. The predicate acts may seem, on the surface, to be insignificant. For example, a predicate act for a healthcare fraud conspiracy may be as simple as obtaining an application, making a doctor’s appointment, or opening a bank account, depending on the nature of the overall accusation. The issue is whether the actor is aware of the purpose of the criminal scheme, and knowingly acts in a way to further the scheme.
In many instances, however, it is not necessary for a crime to have actually been committed. For example, Section 846 of the federal Controlled Substances Act (which criminalizes an attempt or conspiracy to manufacture or distribute a controlled substance) does not require a person to make any overt act toward the actual manufacture or distribution. Simply making the agreement to commit the crime creates an indictable conspiracy. Since the penalties for drug conspiracy are the same as those for the underlying offense, which range from five years to life in prison, someone could be sentenced to a very lengthy prison term for doing nothing more than agreeing to commit a crime with another person. Such a result could be improper and disproportionate in many circumstances.
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act (18 U.S.Code 1961) is a broad federal statute designed to prohibit a wide range of systematic criminal activities. All states have their own RICO statutes, usually patterned after the federal act. In general, RICO statutes outlaw a “pattern of racketeering activity,” generally meaning two or more instances of “racketeering activity” as defined in subsection (1) of the Act. Racketeering activities can thus range from murder, kidnapping, and robbery to distribution of controlled substances to fraudulent labor contracting to cargo theft.
In multi-member conspiracies, such as illegal drug rings, the law does not require each member of the conspiracy to know of the roles, or even the existence, of any other members of the conspiracy. It is enough that one member interacts with at least one other member in order to execute the predicate acts in question. (This is often called a “hub-and-spoke” conspiracy, involving one or more central characters and any number of peripheral players.)
Get Help From an Experienced Attorney
Conspiracy and racketeering statutes can be mind-boggling in their technical and legal complexity, making the defense against such charges a minefield for a defendant or lawyer who is unpracticed in the federal system. If you are being charged with (or investigated for) a conspiracy of any kind, state or Federal, make sure you immediately hire an attorney with the skill and experience defending people charged with similar offenses. In Miami, Fort Lauderdale and statewide, you should contact the Tony Moss Firm, L.L.C. for assistance.