RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act
The Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which was created to combat traditional organized crime, has been expanded to include multiple types of fraud, theft, and computer crimes that can be committed by individuals and corporations. In civil litigation, the statute allows for the collection of treble (triple) damages and attorneys’ fees. Also, a RICO judgment is not dischargeable in most types of bankruptcy and can sometimes be collected against successor corporations.
When crafting the Georgia (RICO) Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, the legislature used the federal RICO statute as a model. The Georgia RICO Act (OCGA 16-14-4), however, has several differences and is much broader than its federal counterpart. The two most important differences are that the federal RICO statute requires proof of continuity and an enterprise. In contrast, the Georgia RICO Act can be used to prosecute individuals and schemes that have been active for only a short time.
In civil litigation, RICO is a tool that businesses and individuals who have been victimized can use recover the damages. When bringing a RICO claim, the parties become private attorneys general. They are able to recover treble (triple the plaintiff’s damages) and often attorneys’ fees.
Unfortunately, the RICO Act has been overused in litigation and often brought in simple breach of contract matters. Defending these matters can be difficult and the stakes are high because essentially the defendant is being accused of criminal conduct.
Typically, the types of crimes that are prosecuted under the Georgia RICO Act are complex criminal schemes that involve thousands of transactions or multiple victims. To be prosecuted under Georgia RICO the underlying crimes must be acts of racketeering activity. The crimes that qualify as acts of racketeering activity are listed in OCGA 16-14-3.
Although RICO started as a tool to combat organized crime, today’s prosecutors use RICO to prosecute employee embezzlement cases, Ponzi schemes, credit schemes, complex investment schemes, or a series of thefts that aggregate to over $100,000. The statute is also often used to prosecute commercial gambling cases, pain management (opioid) clinics (or pill mills), and public officials.
RICO is codified in OCGA 16-14-4. Criminal RICO carries a maximum penalty of 20 years and a fine that is the greater of $25,000 or three times the amount of pecuniary gain.
When selecting an attorney, RICO jury trial experience is critical because the strategy of litigating these cases is different from traditional business disputes. Moreover, that experience can be a huge factor when the other side is assessing the value of the case for settlement.
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