In a nutshell, racketeering is an illegal business scheme set up by a group with the goal of making a profit. Activities can include bribery, sexual exploitation of children, and illegal gambling—though there are much, much more. For example, the group may be involved in theft, fraud or extortion versus companies or ordinary citizens. Or, they may be involved in creating and disseminating counterfeit bills, or in money laundering.
Some perfectly “acceptable” companies hold legitimate business operations to cover up a criminal enterprise that fall under racketeering. In order to maintain this business, they may also bribe or blackmail law enforcement agencies, public officials, or other companies to help them disguise their operations.
One example of this is labor racketeering. Here, union leaders are bribed or blackmailed in order for them to agree to particular regulations or terms regarding the health and pension plans of the members of that union. This can affect many, many people--thousands of members and their families, from a number of industries and business. In fact, the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) discovered in the 1950’s that the Mafia had many deep ties with the labor unions, and were in fact manipulating the negotiations (which involved several millions of dollars, and led to bloated labor costs and violated the rights of the laborers).
All racketeering crimes are reviewed by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute which allows the government to stop the problem at its root: the corrupt entities, rather than just people who could easily be replaced by another member of the criminal organization.