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Racketeering Activity

18 U.S.C. § 1959 - Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering Activity

In 1970, Congress enacted the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) in an effort to crack down on organized crime in the United States.

Where the government before 1970 could only prosecute individual crimes committed by individual members of crime syndicates, RICO greatly expanded the ability of the U.S. government to go after these organizations, and their leaders, on a much broader scale.

Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering Activity -  18 U.S.C. § 1959
The Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering Activity Law imposes harsh penalties for racketeering.

Further strengthening the reach of RICO, Title 18 U.S. Code 1959, the Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering Activity law, or VICAR, imposes severe penalties on violent criminal acts committed in support of racketeering enterprises.

VICAR is a federal statute that includes any violent crime committed by an individual or group, with one purpose being to support a racketeering enterprise, including murder or extortion activities to support manufacturing, selling, or distributing controlled substances. However, the purpose of the activity doesn't need to be solely to support racketeering activity.

To obtain a VICAR conviction, a government prosecutor must show that a criminal organization exists that is a racketeering enterprise. They also must prove that the defendants committed, or attempted or conspired to commit, a violent crime and acted to promote their position in or gain entrance into the racketeering enterprise. 

18 U.S.C. 1959 says, “(a) Whoever, as consideration for the receipt of, or as consideration for a promise or agreement to pay, anything of pecuniary value from an enterprise engaged in racketeering activity, or for the purpose of gaining entrance to or maintaining or increasing position in an enterprise engaged in racketeering activity, murders, kidnaps, maims, assaults with a dangerous weapon, commits assault resulting in serious bodily injury upon, or threatens to commit a crime of violence against any individual in violation of the laws of any State or the United States, or attempts or conspires so to do, shall be punished….”

If you're convicted under VICAR, depending on the severity of the crime, you could face a sentence of up to life in prison or even death. Let's review this federal law further below.

What is the Background of VICAR?

VICAR is typically considered a companion law to RICO, and while not always, many defendants charged under VICAR are also charged with violations of RICO.

Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering Activity
Many people charged with RICO will also be charged with violent crimes in aid of racketeering.

However, while RICO criminalizes specific acts associated with organized crime on a large scale (such as extortion, drug trafficking, etc.), VICAR, in a sense, targets the "muscle" behind these criminal organizations.

In other words, the "hit men" or others committing acts of violence in support and enforcement of racketeering activities, whether for pay or prestige within the organization.

While VICAR, like RICO, was initially passed to target mafia activities, it has since been extended to cover a wide range of organized criminal activities, including activities of multi-national gangs. Accused gang members are often charged with crimes under VICAR.

What Does the Law Say?

18 U.S.C. 1959 enumerates various violent acts committed in support of an enterprise engaged in racketeering activity—either with a promise to pay or to maintain or increase position within a criminal enterprise. Specifically, it makes it a crime to do any of the following in support of organized crime:

  • Murder;
  • Kidnapping;
  • Maiming someone;
  • Assault with a dangerous weapon;
  • Assault causing serious bodily injury;
  • Threatening someone with a violent crime; or
  • Attempting or conspiring to commit any of the above.

To convict you of a crime under VICAR, prosecutors must prove the following elements:

  • You committed, attempted to commit, or conspired to commit one of the violent crimes listed above;
  • You did so in support of an organization known to be a racketeering enterprise; and
  • You did so either with the expectation of payment or to maintain or further your position in the organization.

What Are the Related Federal Crimes?

18 U.S. Code Chapter 95 Racketeering has several federal statutes related to 18 U.S.C. 1959 violent crimes in aid of racketeering activity, including the following:

  • 18 U.S.C. 1951 – Interference with commerce by threats or violence;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1952 – Interstate travel in aid of racketeering enterprises;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1953 – Interstate transportation of wagering paraphernalia;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1954 – Offer to influence operations of employee benefit plan;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1955 – Prohibition of illegal gambling businesses;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1956 – Laundering of monetary instruments;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1957 – Engaging in monetary transactions in property;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1958 – Interstate commerce facilities in murder-for-hire;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1960 – Prohibition of unlicensed money-transmitting businesses.

Penalties for Violating 18 U.S.C. 1959

The penalties outlined in Section 1959 vary widely based on the specific crime committed. Still, the penalties are generally more severe than if you were convicted of one of these crimes outside the context of racketeering. Maximum penalties include:

  • For attempted/conspiracy to commit assault with a dangerous weapon, maiming, or serious bodily injury: up to 3 years in prison.
  • For attempted/conspiracy to commit murder or kidnapping: up to 10 years in prison.
  • For assault with a dangerous weapon or resulting in serious bodily injury: up to 20 years in prison.
  • For maiming someone: up to 30 years in prison.
  • For kidnapping someone: up to life in prison.
  • For murder: the death penalty or life imprisonment.

These offenses may also accompany a stiff fine of up to $250,000.

What Are the Defenses for 18 U.S.C. 1959?

While being charged with a crime under VICAR comes with potentially severe penalties if you're convicted, a skilled federal criminal defense attorney can still implement several strategies to counter these accusations. The common defenses are discussed below.

Perhaps we can argue that there was a lack of Intent. In any criminal case, proving intent is a crucial component. If a defense attorney can demonstrate that the defendant did not have the requisite intent to commit the violent act, this could serve as a viable defense.

Defenses for Federal Racketeering Activity
Contact our federal lawyer for legal guidance.

For example, perhaps the person's injury or death was accidental; you were unaware you were acting in support of a criminal enterprise, or you had no motivation to be paid or promoted within the enterprise.

Perhaps we can argue that the crime is not connected with racketeering. For 18 U.S.C. 1959 to apply, the alleged crime must have been committed in furtherance of racketeering activity.

Suppose your attorney can show that the crime was committed independently of racketeering activities. In that case, you may still face criminal charges under federal or state laws, but you can avoid the excessive penalties associated with VICAR.

Perhaps we can argue that you are the victim of mistaken identity. If the victim, witness, or other source misidentified you as the perpetrator of a crime violating 18 U.S.C. 1959, this may provide grounds for an acquittal.

You can contact us for a case review by phone or using the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, California.

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