Organized Protection Scams

Feb 24, 2009

While we don’t really hear this word too often, other than on TV crime shows, racketeering is alive and well in the U.S. It’s complicated and costly and affects more people than you would think possible.

Being charged with racketeering is not a cut and dried moment. There is no instant guilt, instant confession or the instant resolution to a case. It goes much deeper than that, and this is why many people don’t “get” what racketeering is all about.

The usual definition in legal circles is an organization (group) of people who are controlled centrally though a hierarchical system, who knowingly commit criminal activities. Now that covers a lot of ground, but you get the idea; and if you are thinking of examples, then the word Mafia might come to mind.

Is there any counter measure that combats and prosecutes racketeering? Yes, RICO, which sounds like the name of an Italian waiter. RICO, in fact, stands for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. It was passed in 1961 and its main raison d’etre is to break up organized crime and that includes things like gambling schemes, theft rings operating under the guise of a legitimate business, prostitution rings, and protection scams. While these particular crimes are of some concern, the larger problem is pension scams.

Pension funds run into the billions these days and what juicy pickings they are for organized crime. The unions started to get bigger than their britches at the beginning of the 20th century and they mushroomed from there into organizations with hundreds of members who socked money away into retirement funds. Nice money if you can get your hands on it, and many of the pension management contracts did go to Mafia interests. You are likely able to connect the dots here.

RICO’s role changed in 2001 and it prosecutes to the max many other things including issues that deal with terrorism – in particular trying to put a finger in the dyke of money leaking out to fund terrorists. While RICO’s enthusiasm for prosecution is appreciated to a certain extent, it has sometimes led to convicting innocent people. Criminal defense attorneys are not all that thrilled with how this set up works, but are still waiting to see the results over the long-term.

Where will this all end? That’s the $64 million dollar question that seemingly has no answer. Think about this. Where is real justice in a process that insists in winning at any costs? If you’re faced with a racketeering charge, immediately call a criminal defense attorney, as it may mean keeping your freedom.

Daniel Wannamaker is a board certified criminal law specialist and has 24 years of criminal trial experience with proven results as a Dallas criminal defense lawyer practicing in Austin criminal defense and Houston Texas. To learn more, visit

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