In legal terms, racketeering refers to conducting a business, or business activities, in an illegal manner or by using illegal means. Sometimes the entire business itself is illegal, such as drug trafficking, child pornography, or human trafficking. In other examples, however, the business itself may be legal, but the tactics or practices used in the business are illegal, such as extortion or money laundering. There are a number of crimes that may be part of an illegal enterprise, such as loan sharking, theft, and embezzlement, as well as bribery, counterfeiting, and kidnapping.
When many people here this term, they frequently think of the mafia. The mafia has certainly been involved in some of the more famous cases in many countries, but they are hardly the only group that has been guilty of the crime. The organization was famous for its protection schemes during the middle part of the 20th century. Protection racketeering worked by forcing businesses to pay money to the organization for "protection," which amounts to extortion according to most criminal laws. Interestingly, in most cases, the victims of a protection scheme were paying money to the organization to protect the business from harm from the same organization.
A legal business may be guilty of this crime if it employs illegal tactics to succeed, or if the business is essentially just a front for behind-the-scenes illegal activities. Casinos have historically been known for being the base of operations for a number of such schemes, including money laundering and counterfeiting. Another example of when a legitimate business operation employs illegal tactics or methods is when a real estate developer offers bribes to city or state employees in order to gain the approvals or permits needed to proceed with a project.
In the United States, anyone charged with racketeering faces tough criminal penalties, as well as the possibility of civil liability, under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) act. Originally enacted as an additional weapon in the government's legal arsenal to fight organized crime, RICO has had a much broader impact than originally anticipated. Due to the somewhat broad definition of this crime under the RICO statutes, a wide range of criminals have found themselves facing additional charges as a result. Basically, an individual may be charged under the act if he or she shows a pattern of illegal behavior by committing at least two of the many crimes listed in the act within a ten-year period.