In 1970, the legislature established the Criminal Justice Act. This was largely inspired by similar federally enacted laws that targeted organized crime. Organized criminal activity had begun posing a “threat to the political, social, and economic institutions.” This was occurring despite the efforts of law enforcement agencies across New Jersey working to curtail such illegal activities.
Those involved in organized crime have increasingly been operating with a higher level of sophistication. These criminal ventures are better concealed, such as through diversification into legal businesses. The result has been that the New Jersey economy incurs massive losses from violence, fraudulent activity, and corruption. Today, the laws allow for significant criminal and civil sanctions to be imposed on those participating in racketeering.
Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO)
RICO or the “RICO statute” was a key component of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970. The stated purpose was to stop the spread of organized criminal activity into “legitimate organizations operating in interstate commerce.” This measure allowed the Attorney General to empower divisions and agencies to investigate and prosecute these offenders much more effectively.
Racketeering in New Jersey (2C:41-1)
Racketeering is not categorized as a specific crime such as assault, theft, vandalism, etc. It is a “pattern” of unlawful activity conducted by an enterprise. This pattern of unlawful activity may be involved in dozens of potential crimes including:
- Violent crimes such as murder, robbery, or terrorism
- Facilitating or promotion of gambling, prostitution, or criminal usury
- Theft-related crimes involving cargo or acts of fraud
- Distribution or trafficking of controlled substances and many more
An enterprise is any group of people functioning together as a “partnership, corporation, business, charitable trust, association, union” or any other entity. This group collaborates or conspires to further their interests.
Pattern of Racketeering Activity
To establish that a pattern of racketeering activity exists there must be multiple criminal acts or incidents within a 10-year period. A pattern also implies that these incidents are not simply isolated occurrences. The criminal conduct involves “similar purposes, results, and participants.”
Those who commit these organized criminal activities typically act discretely. For this reason, law enforcement usually undertakes covert actions in their investigations. It is common for these investigations to span several years.
Unlawful Debts and Usury
These criminal activities often involve the collection of unlawful debt. These debts are incurred as a result of illegal gambling activity or lending associated with usury. The term usury is defined as when money is lent at outrageous or exorbitant rates of interest. Abusive lending practices have long existed in history. A common term for this activity today may include “loan sharking.”
New Jersey law makes it illegal to use funds that are derived from racketeering or unlawfully collected debt in trade or commerce. This includes funds obtained directly or indirectly from racketeering or by simply conspiring to do so. Trade or commerce may include any financial activities including those involved with commodities or services.
Criminal Penalties (2C:41-3)
Those who unlawfully engage in racketeering that involves crimes of violence or the use of firearms may be charged with a first-degree offense. All other racketeering offenses are charged as a crime of the second degree. For crimes of the first degree, the offender may be sentenced to a prison term of between 10 and 20 years and subject to a fine of up to $200,000. For crimes of the second degree, the offender may be sentenced to a prison term of between five and ten years and subject to a fine of up to $150,000.
Forfeiture of Assets
Those convicted of racketeering are subject to forfeiture that is coordinated by the agency prosecuting the offense. This includes any money or property that was obtained as a result of the crime(s). This also includes securities obtained or used to conduct criminal acts.
Following conviction, the court will permit the Attorney General to begin the seizure of property and interests forfeited. The Attorney General will conduct the seizure in a timely manner and consider provisional exceptions to protect the rights of innocent people. Those prosecuting the case are responsible for clearly stating that a conviction may result in forfeiture in the original indictment.
Civil Remedies (2C:41-4)
The court has the authority to impose a host of civil penalties in these cases.
- The offender may be ordered to divest any interests that they have in an enterprise.
- Restrictions may be imposed prohibiting the offender from participating in future ventures that are similar to those associated with the crimes.
- The enterprise may be formally ordered to be dissolved or modified.
- Any domestic or foreign corporation may be ordered to have their authorization to conduct business in the state canceled or suspended.
- Orders to “cease and desist” may be imposed on any person requiring them to refrain from certain behavior or actions.
- Offenders may be ordered to make financial restitution when appropriate.
- Monetary penalties may be imposed of up to three times the amount obtained as a result of racketeering. These measures are intended to serve as a deterrent.
- Individuals or businesses that were harmed as a result of the defendant's actions may bring a lawsuit to recover for damages. Damages of up to three times the amount lost may be pursued as well as attorney fees.
Investigative Interrogatories (2C:41-5)
The Attorney General may create an investigative interrogatory requiring an individual or organization to produce evidence in their possession or control. This applies when there are reasonable grounds to suspect that they possess evidence that is relevant to an investigation. The document should include an explanation regarding the nature of the investigation.
The party ordered to produce the evidence will be afforded a reasonable time to do so. The party has the right to consult with legal representation. The evidence is subject to inspection and may be copied or otherwise reproduced by the court.
Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer for Racketeering Charges
Those who are alleged to have been engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity should promptly retain seasoned defense counsel. The penalties that may be imposed include up to 20 years in prison and more than $200,000 in fines and restitution. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has been defending serious criminal cases in New Jersey for many years. You are encouraged to contact the office today for a case evaluation at (888) 535-3686.