on findingsStudent entries

Where RICO Stands Now, and Where it has the Potential to Go


This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.


As the war on terror rages on, the scope of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) has increased in scope. Beginning in 2001, when the Patriot Act was instilled, RICO gained legal purview in the area of terrorism. RICO and the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), became closely tied. This meant that RICO and the ATA were able to work in conjunction with each other in order to give the defendant the maximum charges applicable to his or her case.

According to the Patriot Act, “any act that is indictable under any provision listed in the criminal liability section of the ATA” was now applicable to RICO cases (Perquel 2015). This lengthened the, already exceedingly long, arm of the law in relation to cases of terrorism, specifically those involving an attempt or conspiracy to provide material support. Concern regarding the mere power of RICO has been expressed. In a decision filed in New York on January 18th, 2005, the court explicitly indicated such concerns (In Re Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001…2005). In its decision, which came as a response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the court stated, “Courts should strive to flush out frivolous RICO allegations at an early stage of the litigation” (Perquel 2015).

This statement is invaluable in answering my remaining question. RICO has not yet occurred in the tPP data set at a level of statistical significance. A point which baffles me, given RICOs broad interpretation. However, this quote reveals that the innate power of RICO is something the courts themselves are wary of, so as not to create a law so all-encompassing, that legal precedent and reason are ignored. Courts have also displayed reluctance in looking at the personnel involved in RICO cases. Those viewed as ‘non-essential’ personnel are, more often than not, not viewed as perpetrators, in a legal sense. This includes banks, charities, and corporations, but excludes these entities from liability and prosecution. This has proven harmful, especially when considering corporations and charities.

The role of charities and corporations has grown in criminal enterprises, such as terrorist organizations. Terrorist groups have used corporations and charities as fronts to launder money, sell goods that profit the enterprise, and raise funds that ultimately benefit their organization. Terrorist organizations have been known to use what is “supposedly a charitable organization to further their goal of supporting a known and dangerous terrorist group” (Perquel 2015). This practice of using legitimate funding sources is one example of the blurred lines between the practices of traditional organized crime groups, and terrorist organizations.

The similarities between different criminal enterprises have been increasing, as practices are borrowed and refined. For example, just as people pay a tax in exchange for protection in contested gang territory, people living in fear of terror at the hands of different kinds of extremists, also often pay a tax to evade conflict. These taxes provide necessary funding to the organizations, abroad and domestically. The role of family relationships, often associated with traditional organized has also spread to the hierarchy, and involvement, in terrorist organizations. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the tactic of using legitimate enterprises or corporations as a front for funding criminal institutions has served useful for all kinds of organized crime. Particularly, the business of cigarettes. The production and trade of cigarettes to fund terrorist organizations has even spread to Latin America, where the contraband is produced (Perquel 2015).

Illegitimate companies are not the only ones willing to consort with criminals and terrorists in their effort to conduct illegal business. Multinational corporations have also gotten in to the business of affiliating with terrorists and other groups in order to benefit themselves. Multinational corporations have displayed a “willingness… to engage with terrorists to increase market share and profits.

“Al-Qaeda is to terror what the mafia is to crime. But its goal is not making money; rather its goal is to remake the world.” -President George W. Bush, days after the 9/11 attacks.

– Emily Lightman


Works Cited

In Re Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001, 349 F. Supp. 2d 765 (S.D.N.Y. 2005). 2005 Court Listener. District Court, S.D. New York.

Perquel, Anne-Laure. 2015. “The Use of RICO in the War against Terror.” April 2015, 1–25. http://www.academia.edu/12545128/The_use_of_RICO_in_the_war_against_terror.

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