Federal prosecutors increasingly are using racketeering statutes to go after a broad array of criminal activity, in ways that deviate from the laws’ original goal of dismantling organized crime. The main federal racketeering statute, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO)—allows law enforcement to stitch together offenses over time and present them in a single case, instead of prosecuting crimes independently. The law, passed in 1970, was used successfully to target the leaders of New York’s five organized crime families. Since then, it has been used effectively against insider trading, market manipulation and cybercrime, even where defendants had never met each other.
In the past three years, prosecutors have expanded the types of cases targeted by the statute. Authorities in Boston pursued RICO charges in a nationwide college admissions cheating scheme, securing two jury convictions and dozens of guilty pleas thus far; in Chicago, former traders at JPMorgan Chase & Co. face racketeering charges in a case accusing them of commodities spoofing; and the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn secured racketeering convictions against Nxivm sex cult founder Keith Raniere and R&B superstar R.Kelly, both of whom were accused of running a criminal enterprise. Officials are also turning to RICO conspiracy laws to prosecute neighborhood street gangs, the Wall Street Journal reports.. Using the law broadly, says James Trusty, former chief of the U.S. Justice Department’s Organized Crime and Gang division, "You’re basically creating your own permission slip to introduce evidence of criminality,” as opposed to having to rely on the go-ahead from judges.