Prosecuting Criminal Enterprises

Federal prosecutors have available two sets of statutes to dismantle criminal enterprises that function like businesses.9 min read

Prosecuting Criminal Enterprises: Federal Offense And Offenders

November 1993, NCJ-142524

By K Carlson P Finn, ABT Associates Inc.

Federal prosecutors have available two sets of statutes to dismantle criminal enterprises that function like businesses. The continuing criminal enterprise (CCE) statute (21 U.S.C. 848) targets only drug traffickers who are responsible for long-term and elaborate conspiracies. The antiracketeering statute (18 U.S.C. 1951-1968), which includes the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), targets offenders working at the top levels of various kinds of criminal organizations.

The number of prosecutions based on these statutes is relatively small compared to those for major categories of Federal offenses such as drug trafficking. Among persons whose cases were terminated in U.S. district court in 1990, 996 were prosecuted using the racketeering statutes and 128 were prosecuted using CCE, while 17,135 were prosecuted for drug trafficking using other statutes.

Conviction under most criminal enterprise statutes requires proof of both a predicate offense and--what is generally more difficult--a pattern or set of circumstances that connect the predicate offenses.

The importance of the criminal enterprise statutes comes from their potential to break up associations of highly placed drug traffickers or to incapacitate criminals who direct complex illegal activities. By using these statutes, a U.S. attorney can obtain convictions that carry longer sentences on average than convictions for the predicate offenses alone. Additionally, based on overlapping jurisdiction with the States, Federal prosecutors may agree to use the statutes to prosecute crimes such as murder and robbery that would otherwise be State offenses only.

The main findings from an analysis of matters concluded by U.S. attorneys and cases terminated in U.S. district courts, from mid-1987 to mid-1990, include the following:

*In 1990, 2% of Federal offenders were convicted of racketeering or CCE charges.

*CCE offenders constituted less than 1% of Federal drug offenders, representing a uniquely defined set of the most serious drug traffickers. Characteristics of these offenders, such as sentence length and criminal history, can be most clearly observed in comparing CCE with "other" drug cases.