Michael C. Hennenberg

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What is racketeering?

You may have encountered the word "racketeering" when reading or watching the news in Ohio but not fully understood what it meant. Your confusion is understandable; "racketeering" is a broad umbrella term used to describe a wide range of criminal schemes. CNN cites a law professor who describes racketeering as more of a prosecution strategy of thinking about crime in a particular way than a specific offense. Thus, two types of illegal activity that may seem to have little, if any, similarities with one another on the surface (e.g. organized crime and college admission scandals) could each incur racketeering charges. 

The broad scope of racketeering charges is by design. The purpose of the 1970 Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act was to combat organized crime. As a result, there are 35 offenses altogether, including arson, bribery, extortion, kidnapping and murder, that the RICO Act describes as racketeering.

There is, however, one common element that must be present if authorities are to file and prosecute a charge of racketeering: The alleged criminal enterprise must have had some effect on interstate commerce. If this is the case, then the activity need not necessarily relate to the mafia or organized crime per se. 

Racketeering does not happen in isolation but as part of a pattern of allegedly criminal behavior. Therefore, in order for prosecutors to convict someone of racketeering, they must find and present evidence that an individual engaged in at least two instances of activity that the RICO Act describes as racketeering. 

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only. 

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