Rep. Rick Boucher's opposition {op-ed, Sept. 22} to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act can only come from someone who has never been the victim of a crime for which he has sought redress. The sad fact is that in this country crime does pay and our legal system makes recovery for the victim an uphill battle. RICO has been the first real deterrent to illegitimate operations and the first real hope for the injured.

RICO allows someone who has been the victim of crime to seek triple damages and attorneys' fees in a federal court. There is nothing wrong with that. An injured person faces substantial expenditures in money, time and emotion in seeking redress in our courts. Having lost money, that person must pay attorneys' fees, filing fees, deposition and other discovery costs and, most likely, expert-witness fees. In the case of a deep-pocket defendant, the defendant will simply try to raise the plaintiff's costs until expenses and time break resolve. Where the defendant is fly-by-night, the plaintiff stands considerable risk that any recovery will be empty, as the defendant has either disappeared or is bankrupt. Because of these problems, any settlement of a case without RICO is almost always for cents on the dollar.

Without the threat of triple damages and attorneys' fees, there is little incentive for wrongdoers to change their conduct. Without RICO, a victim can do little damage to the profitability of illegitimate activity, ensuring its continuation.

RICO is a victims' law and a good and necessary one. It gives those injured a chance at meaningful recovery. And it serves a salutary purpose in seeking to take the profit out of illegitimate operations, whether or not committed by otherwise "legitimate" businesses. Rep. Boucher's scare stories are only that. The statute has built-in safeguards to ensure that RICO is only successful against offenders who engage in a pattern of committing crimes. Tampering with RICO will only reward those offenders at the expense of victims.


To read Rep. Rick Boucher's piece on RICO, one might get the impression that his bill has the support of consumer groups. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The so-called RICO reform sponsored by Rep. Boucher and segments of industry would deprive consumers and legitimate business people of a critical tool against fraud and other white-collar crime. According to Newsweek, 15,915 complaints about stockbrokers were filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1986, an increase of 128 percent over four years. In an age of mounting securities fraud, Rep. Boucher would grant an exemption from civil RICO's treble damages for all violations of securities law except insider trading.

Proponents of RICO "reform" have claimed it is necessary to stop a flood of meritless RICO suits that has resulted from the ease with which such suits can be brought. Recent studies indicate, however, that no such flood exists. All but the clearest cases of ongoing criminal conduct are being dismissed. If, as Rep. Boucher claims, "ordinary" business people are vulnerable to civil RICO, perhaps this fact says less about federal racketeering law than it does about the extent to which white-collar crime has become an acceptable way of doing business in America. PAMELA GILBERT Staff Attorney, U.S. Public Interest Research Group ERIC HARD Staff Attorney, Public Citizen Congress Watch Washington

NOTE TO PRINTER: These two letters replace the old letters by GILBERT/HARD and TIMBERMAN.