American Gangsters: RICO, Criminal Syndicates, and Conspiracy Law as Market Control

60 Pages Posted: 1 Sep 2021

See all articles by Benjamin Levin

Benjamin Levin

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Date Written: February 9, 2012


In an effort to re-examine legal and political decisions about criminalization and the role of the criminal law in shaping American markets and social institutions, this Article explores the ways in which criminal conspiracy laws in the United States have historically been used to subdue non-state actors and informal markets that threatened the hegemony of the state and formal market. To this end, the Article focuses primarily on the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) as illustrative of broader trends in twentieth century criminal policy. Enacted in 1970, RICO provides criminal sanctions for individuals engaged in unacceptable organized activities and has been used to prosecute Wall Street power players, labor leaders, activists, and others whose concerted actions violated the codes of the marketplace. Despite the broad scope of RICO’s application, scholars who have written about RICO’s passage have focused on the drafters’ stated intent to target “organized crime.” In these accounts, the specter of organized crime has generally been treated as a threat in a vacuum. I depart from traditional RICO scholarship by re-situating the passage of RICO and subsequent RICO prosecutions in a cultural and historical narrative of politically-inflected conspiracy prosecutions. In doing so, I suggest that RICO has created powerful socio-legal axes between lawful collectives and outlaws that map societal actors according to their adherence to a set of market-based norms.

Keywords: legal history, conspiracy law, criminal law, RICO, organized crime, organized labor, informal markets, political economy

JEL Classification: K14, K42, N00, N22, N42, P16

Suggested Citation

Levin, Benjamin, American Gangsters: RICO, Criminal Syndicates, and Conspiracy Law as Market Control (February 9, 2012). Harvard Civil Rights- Civil Liberties Law Review (CR-CL), Vol. 48, No. 1, p. 105, 2013, Available at SSRN:

Benjamin Levin (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

1 Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

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