In 1970, Congress passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) to combat organized crime in the United States. In Utah, our Legislature has seen fit to pass into law our own version of RICO, the Utah Pattern of Unlawful Activity Act (“UPUAA”), which is commonly referred to as “Utah RICO,” or “State RICO,” or “little RICO.”
Criminal Charges Under the UPUAA:
In order to bring a charge under the UPUAA, the State must prove that an individual engaged in a “pattern of unlawful activity,” which means that the individual must have committed “at least three episodes of unlawful activity” as defined by the statute. However, the three episodes of “unlawful activity” cannot be isolated. Rather, the State must prove the episodes were not isolated and they exhibited the “same or similar purposes, results, participants, victims, or methods of commission, or otherwise are interrelated by distinguishing characteristics.”
Next, if the State can prove the existence of a pattern of unlawful activity, then the State must still prove “enterprise” and that the individual engaged in an “unlawful act” under the statute. Under the statute, an “enterprise” means “any individual, sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, business trust, association, or other legal entity, and any union or group of individuals associated in fact although not a legal entity, and includes illicit as well as licit entities.” Unlawful acts under the statute include: 1) using or investing “any proceeds derived … from a pattern of unlawful activity,” or any “proceeds derived from the investment or use of those proceeds, in the acquisition of any interest in, or the establishment or operation of, any enterprise;” 2) acquiring or maintaining, “through a pattern of unlawful activity,” “any interest in or control of any enterprise”; 3) conducting or participating as an employee or associate of an enterprise “in the conduct of that enterprise’s affairs through a pattern of unlawful activity”; and 4) conspiring to violate any of the aforementioned provisions.
A person that is charged with violating the UPUAA faces a second degree felony, as well as significant fines, and, if the case was brought by the attorney general or a county or district attorney, then the person may be ordered to pay the cost of “investigating and prosecuting the offense and the costs of securing the forfeitures provided for in” the statute. In addition to the aforementioned penalties, upon conviction, a court may order the person to pay restitution, order the person to divest themselves of any interest in or control of any enterprise, impose reasonable restrictions on the person’s future activities or investments, and/or order the dissolution or reorganization of any enterprise.
Civil Remedies Under the UPUAA:
In addition to the criminal penalties associated with the UPUAA, the statute also provides remedies for those “injured by a pattern of unlawful activity.” First, an injured person “may sue in an appropriate district court and recover twice the damages he sustains.” Second, at the conclusion of a cause of action brought under the UPUAA, the “prevailing party” is entitled to recover “the costs of suit, including reasonable attorney fees.”
Knowing and understanding the ins and outs of the UPUAA can be a daunting task, to say the least. Furthermore, the fact that the UPUAA subjects wrongdoers to a possible felony, makes the statute even more imposing. Likewise, the civil remedy portion of the statute opens alleged wrongdoers to civil liability, while at the same time affording a cause of action to those injured by an alleged wrongdoer. As a result, a person that is the subject of a UPUAA charge, or a person that has been injured by an alleged wrongdoer through a pattern of unlawful activity, needs a lawyer to navigate them through the pitfalls of the UPUAA. Christensen & Jensen’s UPUAA attorneys have the knowledge and experience necessary to defend against charges brought pursuant to the UPUAA, as well to bring and defend claims under the statute’s civil remedy provision.
For more information on our UPUAA practice, please visit www.utahricolaw.com