In 1970, Congress enacted RICO to eradicate organized crime in America. To enlist the help of private citizens in this effort, the statute included civil provisions providing treble damages for plaintiffs who proved that they were injured by a pattern of racketeering activity. As the decades passed, civil RICO dramatically expanded its reach, addressing misconduct in a diverse array of contexts, including high-profile suits against the Clinton Foundation and Trump University. This Article examines this evolution, focusing on three factors that have figured prominently in civil RICO’s runaway growth: the broad interpretation of what constitutes a RICO “enterprise”; the flexibility ascribed to the requirement that members of the enterprise work towards a “common purpose”; and the present ambiguity, created by the U.S. Supreme Court, in defining proximate causation in this context. To illustrate the extent to which RICO litigation has moved away from its original mission, this Article concludes by discussing the civil RICO lawsuit filed in December 2017 against Harvey Weinstein and his associates by women alleging sexual misconduct that compromised their employment prospects.
John K. Cornwell, RICO Run Amok,
SMU L. Rev.