Organized Crime

The term organized crime invokes thoughts of Al Capone and mafia films in the minds of most people. Organize crime, however, can be much simpler than being a mobster or a goon for a crime family. It can be as simple as a couple friends deciding to use someone’s car without permission. The consequences of participating in organized crime are serious at not just the state level but also at the federal level.

Prosecutors love to make a name for themselves by busting up organized crime rings and if you are caught up in that net you could be going away for a long time.

Brownsville Organized Crime Attorney

Prosecution of organized crime is complex work that involves lots of moving parts. Prosecutors will try to punish the accused severely to make it worth their time. It is crucial for those accused to hire an attorney who is experienced and sophisticated enough to know how to defend against a complex prosecution.

The attorneys of The Gracia Law Firm are veteran criminal defense lawyers who will relentlessly defend the rights of their clients and will do whatever is necessary to make sure they get a fair chance to tell their side of the story. Call us today at (956) 504-2211 to schedule a consultation. We serve the Cameron County Area and surrounding counties including Willacy County and Hidalgo County.


Organized Crime Information Center


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Federal Organized Crime Laws

At the federal level, racketeering is the main crime that those in organized crime are charged with. Specifically, organized crime is charged under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) act. Chapter 96 of the United States code specifically deals with organized crime and does so in a very broad expansive way.

The term “racket” generally means a criminal act where an offender tries to obtain money through a fraudulent scheme or intimidation. The most notorious type of racket is a protection racket, where perpetrators promise to protect a person’s business for money. If the money is not paid then the perpetrators will damage the business themselves.

The RICO act expands racketeering to mean any continuous or repeated illegal operation. That is, it is illegal to receive income from a pattern of racketeering activity. First it is important to note that “pattern of racketeering activity” means that at least two acts of racketeering activity are required to be prosecuted. But what is considered racketeering activity exactly? Racketeering activity means any act or threat involving:

  • Murder
  • Kidnapping
  • Gambling
  • Arson
  • Robbery
  • Bribery
  • Extortion
  • Dealing in Controlled Substance
  • Counterfeiting
  • Theft from Interstate Shipment
  • Embezzlement from Pension and Welfare Funds
  • Extortionate Credit Transactions
  • Mail Fraud and Wire Fraud
  • Bank Fraud
  • Identification Forgery
  • Human Trafficking
  • Witness Tampering/Intimidation
  • Money Laundering
  • Interstate Transfer of Stolen Property
  • Bootlegging
  • Illegal Debt Collection (Loansharking)

The list above does not include every racketeering crime but does include the most commonly prosecuted offenses under RICO. RICO not only requires two of the above but also requires that the person being prosecuted be engaged in a criminal enterprise that affects interstate commerce. An enterprise is simply defined as “individual, partnership, corporation, association, or other legal entity, and any union or group of individuals associated in fact although not a legal entity.”

Federal RICO charges are punishable by up to 20 years in prison or for life if the underlying crime has a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. A person convicted would also have to forfeit any proceeds from the criminal enterprise.


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Texas Organized Crime Laws

The Texas statute for organized crime is very similar to the RICO statute. The big distinction is that there is no requirement that the criminal activity effect interstate commerce. The Texas version also defines things slightly differently. For instance, the term “enterprise” is replaced by the term “combination” which means three or more people collaborating in carrying on criminal activities.

The members of the combination do not necessarily have to know each other to be prosecuted. In fact, the members can change or be in a relationship that is arm’s length such as a wholesaler to a retailer.

Criminal street gangs can also be prosecuted under the organized crime statute. The definition of criminal street gang is three or more people with a common identifying sign or symbol or an identifiable leadership that regularly associates in the commission of criminal activities. That definition is probably overly broad and allows prosecutors to charge people as members of street gangs even if they are not part of one. Members of a fraternity for instance could be charged as a street gang because they have the same symbol. That is assuming they commit a crime together.

Another important distinction between RICO and the Texas statute is that there is no requirement that two prohibited acts be committed. It is only required that a person commit one of the following offenses to establish, maintain, or participate in a combination or street gang:

  • Murder
  • Arson
  • Robbery
  • Burglary
  • Theft
  • Kidnapping
  • Sexual Assault
  • Forgery
  • Gambling
  • Promotion of Prostitution
  • Unlawful manufacture, transport, repair, or sale of firearms
  • Unlawful distribution of a Controlled Substance
  • Fraud
  • Bribery
  • Money Laundering
  • Human Trafficking
  • Dog Fighting
  • Prison Escape

The punishments for committing any of the above as part of a combination or criminal street gang is actually one level higher than the underlying crime. For instance, if a person acts alone and commits bribery, offense is prosecuted as a second degree felony. If instead a person commits bribery as part of an organized crime combination then the offense is now a first degree felony.


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Defense Against Organized Crime Charges

In Texas, there is only one defense to organized crime charges. It is not a defense to say that you were not criminally responsible or that the other members have been acquitted or that the membership changed. The only possible defense is the renunciation defense.

The renunciation defense requires that the organized crime member have had voluntarily and completely renounced the criminal objective, removed themselves from the organization, and took steps to prevent commission of the crime.

It should be noted that the law does not consider renunciation to have been voluntary if the renunciation was motivated, even in part, by circumstances that increase the likelihood of being arrested or that make the task more difficult. It is also not considered voluntary if the combination is simply planning to postpone the criminal conduct to another time.

So, it is no defense to say that you renounced the criminal organization because they look like they were about to get caught due to mistakes they made.


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Organized Crime Resources

RICO Charges | DOJ – The Department of Justice has a very informative resource manual that explains the finer points of the RICO act. This link will take you directly to that portion of the manual which includes relevant caselaw. The navigation menu also provides interesting statistics and guides for other offenses such as antitrust and civil rights laws.

Organized Crime | Texas Penal Code – Texas’ organized crime statute include several offenses that were not discussed above. Following this link will let you see every prohibited act. You can also see several related crimes such as coercing membership in a street gang or directing activities of a street gang.


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Brownsville Organized Crime Attorney

If you are facing an organized crime charge you have a tough test ahead of you. You need an experienced attorney who can handle the complexities of an organized crime prosecution. Punishments are elevated for anyone who is participating in a criminal enterprise or street gang and it would be unwise to try to defend yourself.

Call the attorneys at The Gracia Law Firm. We are experienced litigators who will doggedly fight to make sure your side of the story is told. Let us protect you. We serve the Cameron County area including Brownsville and South Padre Island. Call us at (956) 504-2211 and make an appointment to discuss your case with us today.


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