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RICO - Why Rico Was An Appropriate Name

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On January 17, 1920, Prohibition became law in the United States. The states had ratified (passed) the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning the manufacture, sale, and distribution of alcoholic beverages in the United States. Only about one-third of the adult population was willing, however, to not drink alcoholic beverages. Americans remained thirsty and beating Prohibition became a national pastime.

Gangsters who before 1920 had limited their activities to gambling, thievery, and vendettas against rival gang members transformed into organized groups of "bootleggers." Bootlegging gangs illegally brought liquor into the country and sold it to eager Americans. The most prominent bootlegger was Alphonse "Al" Capone (1899–1947) who became a legendary character as a Chicago organized crime boss. His income in the late 1920s and early 1930s was over $100 million a year. By comparison the average American family's income was roughly $1,500 to $2,000 a year. Americans became fascinated with the powerful gangsters whose activities were often reported on the same newspaper pages with reports of glamorous Hollywood stars.

Following the crash of the New York stock market in October 1929, Americans were thrown into an economic crisis known as the Great Depression. Banks failed, businesses folded, factories closed their doors, and increasing numbers of Americans lost their jobs or had their incomes severely cut.

During this time, approximately 60 percent of the population, 60 to 75 million people, paid a few pennies to enter movie houses and escape their desperate lives for a short time. In the early 1930s gangster films enjoyed incredible success. Surrounded by social and economic woes, these dynamic, successful, and flamboyant gangsters contrasted with the hardship and despair of most people. Little Caesar, produced by Warner Brothers Studios and released in 1930, was the first great gangster "talkie," a movie with sound.

The film followed the story of Rico Bandello, or "Little Caesar," played by Edward G. Robinson as he climbed the ladder of the criminal underworld. Rico was a thinly disguised version of Al Capone. Rico's activities were obviously outside the law so the movie had to end his life to stay on high moral ground. Rico was a wildly popular character with Depression era audiences. Most all Americans were familiar with the character and the name Rico.

When Congress passed the Organized Crime Control Act forty years later in 1970, lawmakers cleverly named the central portion of the act the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Abbreviated, the title of the act is RICO.

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