Some years ago I brought a “civil” RICO lawsuit. RICO is a federal law, an acronym for “Racketeering, Influenced and Corrupt Organizations” Act, dating from about 1970 and designed to bring organized crime – basically mafia like entities – under federal jurisdiction.
My case was dismissed at the pleading stage. There was no good reason for that, but let’s not dwell on all that right now.
What was very interesting to me about RICO is that in addition to being a federal statute authorizing private enforcement by individuals, it was also a federal criminal statute authorizing prosecution by the US government.
The USG doesn’t use RICO that much, having as they do many options for prosecuting people. But when they do the result is the usual: they win convictions. By contrast, almost all civil RICO claims brought by lesser entities such as individuals are dismissed at the pleading stage, unless they’re just piggy-backing on a criminal case that has already been brought by the USG.
Yet, the elements of the civil and criminal claims, the substance of them, are exactly the same.
RICO then becomes a tidy illustration of the disparity of treatment in the courts between the government-as-litigant and the individual-as-litigant. Almost any litigating lawyer can do at least as good a job, and probably a much better job, outlining the facts of a RICO claim in a written complaint than the government can do by presenting evidence to a Grand Jury. But judges are eager to get rid of civil RICO complaints whereas they never apply similar scrutiny to the criminal RICO cases, even though in essence they are exactly the same thing.