By Stephen Sebald:

With all the cop shows on television lately, you’re bound to eventually come across an episode where the plot revolves around some element of organized crime.  But what exactly does that mean?  Mafias and drug cartels are examples of ways individuals can be participants of organized crime. Also known as racketeering, organized crime contains a wide variety of unlawful activity through the receiving of income via the criminal organization or a collection of unlawful debts.

There are different types of racketeering, notably: gambling rings, loan sharking, extortion, transportation of stolen goods, embezzlement and bribery, money laundering, and mail fraud. Organized crime can be hard to witness at first glance; even many seemingly legitimate businesses may be infiltrated and corrupted by organized crime. Racketeering activities also include those relating to the sale and dispensing of narcotic drugs, collecting money or property in order to satisfy an unlawful debt, and conspiracy to commit any of the previously mentioned offenses.  In Pennsylvania, the Corrupt Organizations Act criminalizes such infiltration and corruption as well as works toward eliminating it. This act is similar to the federal Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act that prohibits many activities related to enterprises affecting interstate or foreign commerce.

Under the Corrupt Organizations Act, it is specifically unlawful for any person to do a wide variety of activities related to certain crimes. To use or invest any part of income or the proceeds of such income that derive from a pattern of racketeering activity is prohibited. A pattern of racketeering activity refers to two or more acts of racketeering activity. It is also unlawful for a person to acquire or maintain any interest or control of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity. It is also unlawful to conduct or participate in an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity, when the person is employed by the enterprise. Conspiring to do any of the above is also considered a violation under the act.

An organized crime offense can be very difficult to defend against because the prosecutor only needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt three things. The first is that the defendant participated in a pattern of racketeering activity within the state. The second proof must be that the statute was actually violated. The third is that the gain of the activity was for the purpose of corrupting the enterprise. If convicted, the offense is a felony of the first degree and the penalty comes with up to 20 years in prison and a possible fine that could be greater than $25,000 depending on the act.

There are a few types of defenses against this charge, including establishing duress or compulsion to participate. Another strategy is to prove that there was no pattern of racketeering under the statute, which requires two or more acts of racketeering activity. You may also claim entrapment or prove withdrawal from the activity.

An organized crime charge can be overwhelming and confusing, especially if you had no idea that the business you conducted was considered organized crime. If you are facing a charge, you need to contact an experienced attorney today. Here at Sebald, Hackwelder, & Knox, we have the experience to form the best defenses for your case. Call today: (814)833-1987.