Conspiracy and racketeering charges are serious federal crimes. If you are facing these charges, it is important to understand what is at risk. Not only do these charges carry substantial penalties, but they are also commonly abused by prosecutors. Conspiracy generally means that prosecutors do not have enough evidence to charge you with a specific crime, so they use conspiracy as a fall back because it requires less evidence. It is akin to "shaking a tree to see what leaves fall" approach.
Conspiracy charges are possible even when a person has not committed a single specific crime. Because of this, United States Attorneys frequently charge large numbers of people with conspiracy or racketeering in hopes of finding witnesses.
Whether this is the case for you or not, you are entitled to a vigorous legal defense. Given the wide use of these charges by federal authorities, it is not uncommon for the cases they build to be light on evidence. It could be possible to see your case dismissed entirely. To learn about whether your case has facts worthy of being dismissed or beating it at trial, contact Houston defense attorney Doug Murphy right away.
Federal Conspiracy Charges
Federal charges of conspiracy are governed by 18 U.S.C. Section 371. According to the statute, conspiracy involves two or more people making an agreement to commit a crime. In addition to reaching an agreement, the parties must each take some sort of action to complete the criminal offense.
It makes no difference if the underlying crime was carried out. Likewise, an act that would otherwise not be criminal could result in a conspiracy charge if it was in furtherance of the scheme. If the underlying crime was completed, a defendant could face charges for both conspiracy and the crime in general.
Federal Racketeering Charges
Federal racketeering charges fall under the purview of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Located at 18 U.S.C. Section 1961, RICO applies to more than just a conspiracy. The RICO Act was designed to address extortion efforts by organized crime but has since been expanded to other types of criminal enterprises.
Racketeering generally involves three types of conduct:
- Investing the proceeds from racketeering crime;
- Obtaining an interest in a racketeering scheme; or
- Leading or participating in a criminal enterprise carrying out racketeering.
Federal law outlines 35 criminal acts that are considered racketeering charges. A conviction requires a person or entity to engage in at least two of these crimes over the course of a 10-year span. Some of those 35 charges include:
- Securities fraud
- Drug trafficking
- Bank fraud
- Money laundering
- Violent crime.
The RICO statute is powerful, as it carries significant penalties for anyone involved in a racket. This includes those that were not directly involved in committing a crime.
Examples of Conspiracy Racketeering / RICO in Texas
Examples are a useful tool in understanding these federal crimes. Consider the examples below.
Bill has wanted to get into the drug trafficking trade for some time. Bill agrees to work with his cousin, Bob, who is a drug dealer. The parties decide that Bob will provide Bill with drugs. Bill will rent a car and meet and Bob's house to pick up the drugs. Bill will then drive them out of state for delivery. Bob packages up the drugs and places them in his garage as the two agreed. Bill rents the car and meets up at Bob's house. Before the transaction goes any further, the police arrest both men for conspiracy to commit drug trafficking. Both could be found guilty. The parties agreed to a criminal act, and both of them took steps to advance the conspiracy. Bill rented the car to be used in the scheme, while Bob packaged the drugs and placed them in the garage for pickup.
Example #2: Lack of Conspiracy
Ted and Fred both work for Mike. They do not like Mike and feel that he has held them back at work for years. After a night of drinking, Ted floats the idea of killing Mike. Fred is enthusiastic about the plot. The two men spend the rest of the night drinking and planning the act. The next morning, the two men nurse a hangover and realize their idea is terrible. Neither even mentions it again or follows through with any of the plans discussed. The bartender, having overheard the plotting, is concerned and contacts the police after a few days. It is unlikely Ted or Fred is guilty of conspiracy, as neither man took steps to advance the plot. That does not mean they are guaranteed to avoid criminal charges, though.
Example #3: Racketeering
Jake is the boss of a crime syndicate. After a successful career in crime, Jake has removed himself from direct involvement in his schemes. While his underlings run a variety of criminal activities including counterfeiting and extortion, Jake is never directly involved. He operates a small car wash that makes a legitimate income, only occasionally making major decisions regarding the criminal enterprise. Despite having no direct part in the counterfeiting or extortion, Jake has an interest and runs an organization that is involved with racketeering acts. Jake could be found guilty under the RICO statute.
Example #4: Unrelated Criminal Activity
Biff is a part of a street gang known to commit violent crimes in his neighborhood. Biff also traffics marijuana on the side. His small drug operation is unrelated to his gang and does not involve any of its members. While Biff could face charges for the violent crimes he has committed as well as drug trafficking offenses, the RICO Act likely does not apply since the crimes are unrelated.
The penalties for both conspiracy and racketeering are steep. For conspiracy, a conviction could mean significant fines and a prison term of up to five years. However, this prison term could be reduced if the conspiracy involved a misdemeanor.
A RICO conviction is even higher. In addition to fines and restitution, a RICO conviction could lead to 20 years in federal prison. This sentence could be increased if one of the underlying crimes carries a life sentence, including murder.
Defenses to Conspiracy Racketeering / RICO Charges in Texas
The defenses in a conspiracy or racketeering case vary. Some valid defenses are unique to these charges, while others only apply to all criminal cases. Examples include:
- Lack of Affirmative Act: In a conspiracy, an agreement to commit a crime is not enough. It must also include an act in furtherance of the crime. If the act does not occur, it is a defense to a conspiracy charge.
- Constitutional Violations: Any violation of a person's 4th Amendment rights could lead to a viable defense. Your attorney could move to block the use of illegally recovered evidence at trial.
- Lack of Proof: The burden of proof during a criminal trial is on the federal government. If they cannot prove conspiracy or racketeering beyond a reasonable doubt, an acquittal is required.
- Unrelated Unlawful Activities: For a RICO conviction, the criminal acts must be interrelated. If the federal government cannot show that each crime was a part of a single criminal enterprise, RICO charges are not appropriate.
How a Houston Conspiracy / RICO Lawyer Could Help
Crafting a winning defense in a conspiracy or RICO case is no easy feat. These charges are complex, and typically involve a large-scale investigation by the federal government. The work of defeating these charges is best left to an attorney with experience handling federal criminal cases and board-certified in criminal defense by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.
Attorney Doug Murphy is a seasoned leader of the Houston criminal defense bar. He has built a reputation as a fighter willing to take a case to trial. His aggressive approach has resulted in many favorable outcomes throughout the Houston area. If you are ready to get started on your defense, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. to schedule your consultation.