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RUSSELLO V. UNITED STATES, 464 U. S. 16 (1983)

U.S. Supreme Court

Russello v. United States, 464 U.S. 16 (1983)

Russello v. United States

No. 82-472

Argued October 5, 1983

Decided November 1, 1983

464 U.S. 16


Petitioner was convicted in Federal District Court, under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) chapter of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, of violating 18 U.S.C. §§ 1962(c) and (d) by being involved in an arson ring that resulted in his fraudulently receiving insurance proceeds in payment for the fire loss of a building he owned. The District Court also entered a judgment of forfeiture against petitioner for the amount of the insurance proceeds pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1963(a)(1), which provides that a person convicted under § 1962 shall forfeit to the United States "any interest he has acquired or maintained in violation of section 1962." The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The insurance proceeds petitioner received as a result of his arson activities constitute an "interest " within the meaning of § 1963(a)(1), and are therefore subject to forfeiture. Pp. 464 U. S. 20-29.

(a) Section 1963(a)(1) does not reach only "interests in an enterprise." Where the term "interest" is not specifically defined in the RICO statute, it is assumed that the legislative purpose is expressed by the term's ordinary meaning, which comprehends all forms of real and personal property, including profits and proceeds. Congress apparently selected the broad term "interest" because it did not wish the forfeiture provision to be limited by rigid and technical definitions drawn from other areas of law and because the term was fully consistent with the RICO statute's pattern in utilizing broad terms and concepts. Every property interest, including a right to profits or proceeds, may be described as an interest in something. Before profits of an illegal enterprise are divided, each participant may be said to own an "interest" in the ill-gotten gains, and after distribution, each has a possessory interest in currency or other items so distributed. P. 464 U. S. 20-22.

(b) Had Congress intended to restrict § 1963(a)(1) to an interest in an enterprise, it presumably would have done so expressly, as it did in § 1963(a)(2). To construe § 1963(a)(1) to reach only interests in an enterprise would blunt the section's effectiveness in combating illegitimate enterprises, and would mean that whole areas of organized crime activity would be placed beyond the reach of the RICO statute. Pp. 464 U. S. 22-24.

(c) The fact that the Controlled Substances Act specifically authorizes the forfeiture of "profits" obtained in illegal drug enterprises cannot be read as imposing a limitation upon § 1963(a)(1)'s broader language, particularly

Page 464 U. S. 17

where the RICO statute was aimed at organized crime's economic power in all its forms, whereas the narcotics activity proscribed by the Controlled Substances Act usually generates only monetary profits. Pp. 464 U. S. 24-25.

(d) Nor is a limiting construction of § 1963(a)(1) supported by the fact that certain state racketeering statutes expressly provide for the forfeiture of "profits," "money," "interest or property," or "all property, real or personal," acquired from racketeering, since those States presumably used such language so as to avoid narrow interpretations of their laws such as was given the federal statute in certain Federal District Court opinions. P. 464 U. S. 26.

(e) The legislative history clearly demonstrates that the RICO statute was intended to provide new weapons of unprecedented scope for an assault upon organized crime and its economic roots, and thus was intended to authorize forfeiture of racketeering profits. The rule of lenity does not apply here, where § 1963(a)(1)'s language is clear. Pp. 464 U. S. 26-29.

681 F.2d 952, affirmed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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