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Florida Corporation Files Multi-Count RICO Lawsuit

A Florida corporation’s recently-filed lawsuit against one of its competitors highlights the far-ranging implications of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Congress initially implemented RICO in the early 1970s to help police and law enforcement professionals combat the growing influence of organized crime. Prior to RICO, prosecutors were forced to use ordinary conspiracy charges to handle crimes committed by groups of people. These types of charges were often too simplistic to encompass the complex structures of organized crime. RICO expanded the ability of prosecutors to hold organizations accountable for the acts of their members. Additionally, RICO also created a private right of action, meaning that if a private citizen was harmed in a way that violated RICO, they could sue the organization and recover treble damages. This private right of action, combined with an expansion of the types of acts that create RICO liability, has made the law a powerful weapon in the private, commercial sphere.

Proving a RICO Violation

In order to recover under RICO, the plaintiff must show that an organization engaged in “a pattern of racketeering activity.” The first step in this is to demonstrate that there was an organization. RICO was designed to handle criminal enterprises, so it does not need to be a formal organization. Instead, the plaintiff must simply show that the group of people were “associated in fact.” Then, the plaintiff must put forward evidence of a pattern of racketeering activity. Neither racketeering activity nor pattern are used in their normal senses. Racketeering activity is defined under the statute and includes an extensive list of crimes, like mail fraud, bribery, securities fraud, and embezzlement. Showing a pattern of that just means showing two separate acts, though some courts also require a continuing threat of further acts.

The Case at Hand

The recent Florida case relates to an alleged campaign of defamation that the plaintiff’s competitor waged on it. The plaintiff accuses the defendants of posting a variety of false reviews of their company on a variety of consumer websites with the goal of driving people away from the plaintiff’s company, and sending false letters to companies working with the plaintiff in order to interfere with their business. The plaintiff’s assert that these communications constitute wire fraud and mail fraud under federal law. Both of those types of fraud qualify as racketeering activity under RICO, and the fact that they happened more than once could lead the court to conclude that there was a pattern of activity. If the plaintiff can prevail on these claims, then they would be able to recover three times the amount of actual damages that the defendants caused them, in addition to potentially being able to recover the costs of the lawsuit.

If you believe that you have been harmed by actions that potentially violate RICO or your company has been accused of RICO violations itself, contact an experienced Florida business litigator today. The attorneys at Pike & Lustig, LLP are here to guide you through the implications of this complex, expansive law.

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