The federal Continuing Criminal Enterprise statute (commonly called “CCE”) was enacted in 1970 in an effort to more effectively combat drug cartels. Dubbed “the kingpin statute,” this charge targets leaders of drug organizations. Under the CCE statute, it is a crime to commit a series of felony drug crimes in concert with five or more individuals. In addition to the criminal penalties, the Continuing Criminal Enterprise contains a hefty asset forfeiture provision. Thus any and all assets derived from the CCE can be clawed back by the Federal Government.
Continuing Criminal Enterprise Statute Explained
The federal Continuing Criminal Enterprise Statute is codified in 21 U.S.C. 848. In order to be convicted of Engaging in a Continuing Criminal Enterprise, the U.S. Attorney must prove these five elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The Defendant must have “violated one of the substantive drug crimes under Title 21 of the United States Code;”
- The violations must be a part of continuing series of federal drug felony violations;
- The series of violations must be undertaken with at least five other people;
- The Defendant is a leader, organizer, or is in a supervisory or a management position with respect to those five people;
- The Defendant must obtain substantial income or resources from the Continuing Criminal Enterprise.
“Super Kingpin” Provision of Continuing Criminal Enterprise Statute
In 1984, a “Super Kingpin” provision was added to the CCE Statute. This provision is also called “Pinebox CCE,” due to the lifetime sentence that it carries. In order to convict someone of the “Super Kingpin” provision of the Continuing Criminal Enterprise Statute, the Government will also need to prove either of the two aggravating elements:
- The Continuing Criminal Enterprise involves a large amount of narcotics (at least 300 times the quantity that would trigger the 5 year mandatory minimum);
- The Continuing Criminal Enterprise generated a large amount of money (at least $10 million in gross receipts during a single year).
Sentencing and Penalties for Engaging in Continuing Criminal Enterprise
An individual convicted of violating the Continuing Criminal Enterprise Statute, 21 U.S.C. 848, will be sentenced to a term of imprisonment between 20 years and life. Additionally, the fine imposed for a CCE case will be $2,000,000 if the defendant is an individual or $5,000,000 if the defendant is other than an individual. Additionally, forfeiture of property constituting or derived from Continuing Criminal Enterprise either directly or indirectly may be ordered.
Sentencing for Continuing Criminal Enterprise with a Prior Federal Drug Felony Conviction
However, if an individual has previously been convicted of a federal drug felony, then the sentencing range on the CCE is 30 years to life imprisonment. Additionally, the fines increase to $4,000,000 for individuals and $10,000,000 for entities other than individuals.
Sentencing for “Super Kingpin” Continuing Criminal Enterprise
Additionally, if the individual is convicted of “Super Kingpin” Continuing Criminal Enterprise, the charge is punishable by life. Furthermore, if an individual engaged in the CCE intentionally kills or counsels, commands, induces, procures, or causes the intentional killing of any Federal, State or local law enforcement officer or if such killing results during the performance of such officer’s official duties, this charge is punishable by a 20 year minimum and a maximum of life imprisonment or the death penalty.
Who is Considered to be a Law Enforcement Officer?
A law enforcement officer means a public servant authorized by law or by a Government agency or Congress to conduct or engage in the prevention, investigation, prosecution or adjudication of an offense, and includes those engaged in corrections, probation, or parole functions.
Common Defenses for Continuing Criminal Enterprise
If you are charged with being Operating a Continuing Criminal Enterprise, you need experienced criminal defense counsel to review your case and develop a defense strategy. This list is by no means exhaustive, but these are some common defenses that are raised in CCE cases:
- Prior offenses are not part of a continuing scheme. If the prosecutor cannot establish that the prior drug felonies are a part of the continuing series of drug violations, then the CCE conviction cannot be sustained.
- Enterprise has fewer than five individuals. One of the requirements of a CCE charge is that the leader or organizer has oversight of at least five individuals. If it can be established that the individual did not supervise at least five individuals, then a person cannot be convicted of CCE.
Frequently Asked Questions about Continuing Criminal Enterprise Cases
1. Are CCE cases prosecuted on the state or the federal level?
Continuing Criminal Enterprise is a federal criminal statute, which is used for prosecutions in federal court. There is no exact New York State criminal statute that mirrors the federal CCE charge. However, three New York statutes that are frequently used to prosecute leaders of drug organizations are:
- Enterprise Corruption (New York Penal Law Section 460.20),
- Aggravated Enterprise Corruption (New York Penal Law Section 460.22), AND
- Operating as a Major Trafficker (New York Penal Law Section 220.77).
2. What Is the Statute of Limitations on CCE Cases?
Under federal law, there is no statute of limitations for charges that are punishable by death. Therefore, for Continuing Criminal Enterprise charges that are punishable by the death penalty, do not have a statute of limitations. However, for CCE cases where the maximum is life imprisonment, the statute of limitations is five years. Importantly, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the criminal conduct ceases or the individual withdraws from the conspiracy. Thus, even if the earlier substantive drug crimes took place outside the statute of limitations, they can still be charged so long as the last drug felony offense is within the statute of limitations.
3. What is the Difference between CCE and RICO?
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (commonly referred to as “RICO”) is a federal statute passed with a declared purpose of seeking to eradicate organized crime within the United States. Continuing Criminal Enterprise has been called RICO’s “little brother.” CCE is specifically designed to target large-scale drug operations. On the other hand, RICO covers a broader range of crimes related to racketeering. Crimes that are related to racketeering include murder, labor violations, illegal gambling, prostitution, embezzling and drug trafficking, to name a few.
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