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Racketeering is a type of organized crime in which the perpetrators set up a coercive, fraudulent, extortionary, or otherwise illegal coordinated scheme or operation (a racket) to repeatedly or consistently collect money or other profit. According to the current common and most general definition, racketeering is an organized criminal act or activity in which the criminal act or activity is some form of substantial business, or a way to earn illegal money either regularly, or briefly but repeatedly. A racket is therefore generally a repeated or continuous organized criminal operation or enterprise.
Originally and often still specifically, racketeering may refer to an organized criminal act in which the perpetrators offer a service that will not be put into effect, offer a service to solve a nonexistent problem, or offer a service that solves a problem that would not exist without the racket. In many other cases, however, traditional racketeering may also involve perpetrators or racketeers offering an ostensibly effectual service (such as protection from other criminals) that may in fact solve an actual existing problem, with the racketeers offering to protect and actually protecting a business from robbery or vandalism; however, these racketeers will themselves coerce or threaten the business into accepting this service, often with the threat (implicit or otherwise) that failure to acquire the offered services will lead to the racketeers themselves contributing to the existing problem. Particularly, in many cases, the potential problem may be caused by the same party that offers to solve it, but that fact may be concealed, with the specific intent to engender continual patronage for this party.
The traditional and most common example of a racket is the "protection racket", in which, in exchange for regular payment, the racketeers promise to protect the targeted business or person from dangerous individuals in the neighborhood and then either collect the money or cause damage or injury to the business or individual until the business owner or targeted individual pays the protection money. The racket exists simultaneously as both the entire or partial problem and its solution, and it is used as a method of extortion.
However, the term "racket" has expanded in definition over time and may now be used less strictly to refer to any continuous or repeated illegal organized crime operation, including those that do not necessarily involve fraudulent or coercive practices or extortion. For example, "racket" may refer to the "numbers racket" or the "drug racket", neither of which generally or necessarily involve extortion, coercion, fraud, or deception with regard to the intended clientele. Because of the clandestine nature of the black market, most proceeds made from criminal rackets often go untaxed.
The term "racketeering" was coined by the Employers' Association of Chicago in June 1927 in a statement about the influence of organized crime in the Teamsters union. Specifically, a racket was defined by this coinage as being a service, such as protection (see below) which calls forth its own demand, and would not have been needed otherwise.
Examples of crimes that may be alleged to be part of a pattern of racketeering activity include
- A protection racket is a form of extortion whereby racketeers offer to "protect" property from damage in exchange for a fee, while also threatening (possibly in a veiled way), in part or in whole, to execute the kind of damage they claim to be offering protection against.
- A fencing racket is an operation specializing in the resale of stolen goods.
- A numbers racket is any unauthorized lottery or illegal gambling operation.
- Money laundering and other creative accounting practices that are misused in ways to disguise sources of illegal funds.
- Organized, coordinated, and repeated or regular theft operations, including: pickpocketing, burglary, smash and grab, home invasion, gasoline theft, metal theft, train robbery, armed robbery, bank robbery and art theft
- Organized retail crime and shoplifting
- Fraud and embezzlement operations, including: credit card fraud, check fraud, health care fraud, welfare fraud, insurance fraud, employment fraud, lottery fraud, disability fraud, charity fraud, mail and wire fraud, securities fraud, bank fraud, mortgage fraud, telemarketing fraud, return fraud, false billing and electoral fraud
- Confidence tricks, including: romance scams, larceny, overpayment scams and advance-fee scams
- Mail robbery and package theft rings
- Truck theft, auto theft and chop shop operations
- Counterfeit operations, including: Counterfeit consumer goods such as counterfeit medications, counterfeit electronic components, counterfeit watches, copyright infringement, art forgery and identity document forgery
- Illegal taxicab operations
- Identity theft and sale of personal data
- Kidnapping and ransom rings
- Contract killing or murder-for-hire services
- White-collar financial crime operations, including: front running, market manipulation, and insider trading
- Bribery and police corruption
- Organized academic dishonesty by school administrators, essay mills, contract cheating, diploma mills
- Loan sharking rackets
- Computer crimes
- Drug trafficking operations, including: depressants, opioids, stimulants, entactogens, hallucinogens, designer drugs, performance-enhancing substances and unlicensed pharmaceuticals
- Arms trafficking operations, including: gun-running, knife-running and sale of explosives
- Extortion rackets
- Blackmail operations
- Counterfeit money and counterfeit coin operations
- Organized prostitution operations, including: procuring, sex work, sexual tourism, and commercial sexual exploitation of children
- Cigarette smuggling rackets
- Organized witness tampering and intimidation
- Modern piracy rackets
- Business skimming operations
- Illicit gems and blood diamond operations
- Illegal gambling, bookmaking, and match fixing
- Human trafficking rings, including: trafficking of children, sex trafficking, labor trafficking, bride buying and debt bondage
- People smuggling rings
- Antiquities trade operations
- Organ trafficking rings
- Rum-running rackets (or alcohol smuggling), caffeinated alcoholic drink operations, illegal sale of alcohol to minors, and moonshine operations
- Illegal nuclear power trade operations
- Illegal subleasing rackets
- Criminal operation of otherwise ostensibly legal operations, such as strip clubs, hotels, restaurants, casinos, nightclubs, bars, pornographic film studios, social clubs, construction companies, salvage yards, auto shops, laundromats, dry cleaners, waste management firms, farms, property development companies, hospitals, television studios, newsrooms, clinics, music stores, hardware stores, fisheries, airline companies, shipyards, florist shops and fashion companies
- Political corruption
- Corporate corruption
- Bid rigging and price fixing
- Labor corruption or labor racketeering
- No-show jobs
- Backyard breeding operations of animals such as working dogs, working cats, livestock and other kinds of domesticated animals as well as exotic pets
- Illegal sports, including underground fight clubs, street racing and baiting
- Poaching and overfishing
- Illegal logging, illegal construction, and illegal mining
- Blood sports such as dog fighting, organized horse fighting, betta-fighting, ram fighting, cockfighting, and bullfighting
On October 15, 1970, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (18 U.S.C. §§ 1961–1968), commonly referred to as the "RICO Act", became United States law. The RICO Act allowed law enforcement to charge a person or group of people with racketeering, defined as committing multiple violations of certain varieties within a ten-year period. The purpose of the RICO Act was stated as "the elimination of the infiltration of organized crime and racketeering into legitimate organizations operating in interstate commerce". S.Rep. No. 617, 91st Cong., 1st Sess. 76 (1968). However, the statute is sufficiently broad to encompass illegal activities relating to any enterprise affecting interstate or foreign commerce.
Section 1961(10) of Title 18 provides that the Attorney General of the United States may designate any department or agency to conduct investigations authorized by the RICO statute and such department or agency may use the investigative provisions of the statute or the investigative power of such department or agency otherwise conferred by law. Absent a specific designation by the Attorney General, jurisdiction to conduct investigations for violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1962 lies with the agency having jurisdiction over the violations constituting the pattern of racketeering activity listed in 18 U.S.C. § 1961.
In the US, civil racketeering laws are also used in federal and state courts.
- "What is racketeering? The crime, explained". 26 March 2019.
- David Witwer, "'The Most Racketeer-Ridden Union in America': The Problem of Corruption in the Teamsters Union During the 1930s", in Corrupt Histories, Emmanuel Kreike and William Chester Jordan, eds., University of Rochester Press, 2004. ISBN 1-58046-173-5
- "Organized Crime and Racketeering". Usdoj.gov. Retrieved 2012-02-18.