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What Is RICO and What Does It Mean for Harvey Weinstein?

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. | Last updated on

The term RICO gets thrown around often in connection with such a wide variety of cases, it's hard to really get the gist of it. So what is RICO? And what does it have to do with Harvey Weinstein? Is he involved in some Hollywood Mafia? Not exactly, at least he hasn't been charged with that one yet.

What Is RICO?

RICO stands for Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Law. It was created in the 1970s to prosecute mobster bosses, who seemed to always be able to slip out of the hands of prosecutors who could only nail lower level criminals. In order to be prosecuted under RICO, you have to be involved in an organization that has committed one of 37 underlying crimes twice over a ten year period. Two is clearly not that many, and so the more times someone can prove involvement in an underlying crime, and the more serious the crime the better, the more likely the charge is to stick.

RICO and The Weinstein Sexual Enterprise

In the Harvey Weinstein RICO situation, the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit are going after people that Weinstein worked with, including board members of his companies as well as other companies that did business with him, such as the Walt Disney Company. They claim these defendants, which they dub The Weinstein Sexual Enterprise, were complicit -- that they knew the illegal activity that was going on, such as rape, assault, sex trafficking, etc, and did nothing. Sometimes, it's claimed, they even aided in Weinstein's in committing these crimes.

On Wednesday, the U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein declared that if the plaintiffs can show a pattern of sex trafficking, he will allow the conspiracy, and therefore RICO, claims to advance. He has given the plaintiffs until October 31 to amend their complaint, and told them to be very specific in their sex-trafficking claim.

Apart from this civil suit, and a few others, Weinstein individually faces criminal charges in New York, which include rape and predatory sexual assault, a felony that carries a minimum 10-year sentence and a maximum of life in prison. He also faces a separate sex-trafficking suit, also in New York. The Weinstein Company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this year, and therefore any money judgments against it, and Weinstein, may be uncollectable.

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