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What is the RICO Act, and how does it impact organized crime?

Good Question: What is the RICO Act?
Good Question: What is the RICO Act? 02:39

MINNEAPOLIS – From the Twin Cities to the White House, a specific type of crime is grabbing headlines as prosecutors look to take down entire groups at once.

Federal and state prosecutors are leaning on the RICO Act, a law that marked a turning point in how criminal enterprises are dismantled.

WCCO spoke with Jeff Grell, a University of Minnesota adjunct professor who teaches a class on RICO. He says it caused a reorganization of organized crime.

RELATED: Georgia indicts Trump, 18 allies on RICO charges in election interference case

"Technically it stands for the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act," Grell said. "It's a very handy law to address large groups of people all at once, under one count, and it makes it far more likely that all of those people can be tried together in one trial."

Created in 1970, the RICO Act targeted the mafia, ensuring the leaders of these syndicates could be held responsible for up to 35 crimes, including murder, gambling, extortion, robbery, drug dealing and money laundering.

"So what RICO did is it allowed prosecutors to prosecute people who didn't get their hands bloody in the crime, but were operating and managing an enterprise knowing that that enterprise was engaged in criminal conduct," he said.


In Minneapolis, nearly 60 gang members are now charged in one RICO case. The massive undertaking requires collaboration between local, state and federal agencies. 

In Georgia, former President Donald Trump and 18 others face RICO charges alleging they tried to overturn the 2020 election results.

RELATED: Officials announce charges against 14 alleged Minneapolis gang members

While those cases grab the spotlight, Grell says RICO is more often invoked in civil cases involving corporations.

"The Catholic Church has been a RICO defendant. Every major Fortune 500 company has been a RICO defendant," Grell said.

What are the penalties under the RICO Act?

"The minimum sentence is five years, and then it can go up to 20 years," he said.

RICO also has the power to freeze a defendant's assets before the case even gets to trial.

"So that obviously assets can't be moved overseas, money can't be spent, money can't be transferred," he said.

Trump faces state-level RICO charges. He said he plans to turn himself in to a Georgia jail Thursday night.

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