In September 2019, the Northern Colorado Drug Task Force (NCDTF) arrested 10 people, who face more than 120 felony allegations, including COCCA charges.
It was all part of Operation Malverde, an eight-month-long investigation by the NCDTF that by all accounts was incredibly successful. Beyond the arrests, the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor reported that the NCDTF seized weapons, illegal drugs, and cash. Numerous suspects are still at large.
Drug Trafficking vs. Conspiracy vs. COCCA Charges – What You Should Know
From the description above, it sounds a lot like the NCDTF broke up a drug trafficking ring. So, why wasn’t anyone actually charged with that? Because there is no specific charge for drug trafficking in Colorado.
Instead, charges are typically filed for the distribution of illicit drugs. Additionally, when a drug distribution ring is targeted, it is fairly common for some of those involved to be charged with conspiracy.
To meet the legal definition of a conspiracy, two or more people must agree to commit a crime at some point in the future. This agreement is a crime. However, no further criminal charges can be filed unless one of the co-conspirators takes action to move the conspiracy forward.
The co-conspirators, who are guilty whether or not the conspiracy succeeds, must agree to
- commit a federal crime, or
- defraud the United States or any federal agency for any purpose and in any manner.
For example, if people in a drug trafficking ring are communicating with each other about how to hide the money they’ve made from selling a shipment of illegal drugs, that’s a conspiracy.
How do COCCA charges fit in?
Breaking Down Colorado’s COCCA Law
First, what is COCCA? It stands for the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act. Colorado Revised Statutes Title 18, Criminal Code §18-17-104(3), defines COCCA.
The Colorado Organized Crime Control Act is essentially our state’s version of federal RICO laws. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) targets members of organized crime in the US.
Every COCCA case is a conspiracy case. The main difference between a general conspiracy case and a COCCA case in Colorado is the penalty. In effect, COCCA cases are conspiracy cases that are likely to have increased sentences.
Both COCCA and RICO may apply to your case if you are charged with a criminal offense that is linked to organized crime.
COCCA charges can be filed when a series of crimes are committed. According to Colorado Revised Statutes Title 18, Criminal Code §18-17-102, the purpose of COCCA is to seek the eradication of organized crime in Colorado by
- establishing new penal prohibitions
- strengthening the legal tools in the evidence-gathering process
- providing enhanced sanctions and new remedies to deal with the unlawful activities of those engaged in organized crime
What Makes a Group of Criminals in Colorado “Organized Crime”?
Merriam-Webster defines organized crime as “criminal activity on the part of an organized and extensive group of people.” Really, though, COCCA and RICO are concerned with racketeering.
According to the law, 35 offenses constitute racketeering, including drug dealing. All of these crimes are predicate offenses, or crimes that are a part of a more serious crime. Racketeering is defined as “obtaining or extorting money illegally or carrying on illegal business activities, usually by organized crime.”
Additional charges that are related to racketeering may be filed. These include bribery, money laundering, and extortion.
Racketeering is a class 2 felony. Penalties include:
- substantial fines
- 8 to 24 years in prison
- mandatory 5-year parole period
- liability for three times the value of any loss caused or property damage
COCCA, RICO, and the Bottom Line
If RICO and COCCA charges are filed in your case, law enforcement agencies are trying to impose increased penalties upon you.
This is not something that you should accept without a fight. Both COCCA and RICO convictions come with incredibly severe penalties.
If you want to have a chance at getting your life back on track, you need the strongest possible defense strategy.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.