What is Racketeering?
A racket is an illegal business, usually run as part of organized crime. Engaging in a racket is referred to as racketeering.
Traditionally, the word “racket” is used to describe a business that is based on the example of the “protection racket” and indicates that the speaker believes that the business is making money by selling a solution to a problem that the business itself created (or that it intentionally allows to continue to exist), specifically so that continuous purchases of the solution are always needed.
The term racketeering was originally coined by the Employers’ Association of Chicago in June 1927 in a statement about the influence of organized crime in the Teamsters union.
Forms of Racketeering
Racketeering is usually associated with organized crimes and criminal organizations and is usually punished under the RICO Act (Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations). The RICO Act allows law enforcement to prosecute all members of a crime organization, instead of just going after a single individual. Law enforcement agencies use it to prosecute the mafia, cartels, street gangs, motorcycle gangs and any other type of organized crime unit.
The RICO Act includes a list of 35 different crimes, including: Gambling, murder, kidnapping, extortion, arson, robbery, bribery, dealing in obscene matter, dealing in a controlled substance or listed chemical, counterfeiting, theft, embezzlement, fraud, obstruction of justice, slavery, racketeering, gambling, money laundering, commission of murder-for-hire, bankruptcy fraud or securities fraud, drug trafficking, criminal copyright infringement, money laundering and related offenses, aiding or assisting illegal aliens entering the country for financial gain, terrorism and others.
Examples of Rackets
The best-known form of racketeering is the “protection racket”, in which criminals demand money from businesses in exchange for the service of “protection” against crimes that the racketeers themselves instigate if unpaid. This is depicted in numerous films such as The Godfather, where mobsters “shake down” local businesses for money.
For example, in a protection racket, a representative from the racket informs a store owner that a fee of a certain amount of dollars will be required every month to serve as protection money, though the “protection” that is provided comes in the form of the racket itself not causing damage to the store or its employees. This practice is often seen in movies about the mafia and the mob.
A second well known example of of the crime is a “numbers racket”, which a form of illegal lottery that is played in poor neighborhoods. In a numbers racket, people pick three digits and place a bet, hoping to match random numbers that will be drawn the next day. In recent years, the three digit number is often taken from a number published in major NYC newspapers.
Punishment for Racketeering Crimes
Each count of racketeering is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. In addition, the court can impose fines related to the amount of the defendant’s profits from their crimes.
Hire a Private Investigator
Private investigators may be hired to investigate various crimes related to racketeering. Detectives may go undercover in an attempt to obtain proof, or they may conduct surveillance to observe the behavior of certain individuals.
Questions and More Information
If you have any questions about racketeering, please post a message below. For more legal definitions, visit our Glossary of Legal and Investigation Terms.