The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, otherwise known as RICO, is a federal law aimed at prosecuting leaders of organizations when they order or assist others in racketeering. A common example is a protection service in which those who offer the protection harm any ostensible beneficiary who declines the service.
RICO was enacted in 1970 to target organized crime syndicates. Since then, the application of the RICO Act has been expanded to include many illegal activities related to interstate commerce by organizations in general. Thus, RICO claims may be brought against leaders of:
Other large organizations
While the RICO Act provides for criminal penalties, it also provides for a civil cause of action. Anyone can bring a civil RICO claim against a large organization. In fact, the law encourages individuals to do so, because a plaintiff in a RICO ACT civil suit who prevails receives treble damages, meaning plaintiffs win three times their actual damages.
One defense to a civil RICO lawsuit is the legal doctrine of in pari delicto, a Latin phrase meaning “in equal fault.” A plaintiff should not expect to win treble damages in a civil RICO lawsuit if the plaintiff is as much at fault as the defendant.