Wire fraud charges (18 U.S.C. Section 1343) are federal crimes that involve allegations that a person has made false promises or representations to defraud someone by using either wire communications (telephone, tv/radio broadcasts, or over the internet.) Mail fraud charges (18 U.S.C. Section 1341) are similar to wire fraud charges, but mail fraud involves the use of a mail or postal service (U.S. Mail, Federal Express, etc.).

Our firm has over twenty years of experience defending people accused of both wire fraud charges and mail fraud charges in federal district courts across the United States. In this video, Page Pate explains the basics of wire fraud charges and mail fraud charges, and reveals some defense strategies we have used to successfully represent our clients in these cases.

What are Wire Fraud Charges?

Wire fraud charges usually involve allegations that someone lied to cheat someone else out of money. The legal elements to a wire fraud offense are simple – a person makes false representations or promises, with a clear intent to defraud someone, by using wire communications. “Wire communications” include telephone, radio or TV broadcasts and, most commonly now, email or the internet.

Sometimes, wire fraud cases can be straightforward, such as a person who makes misrepresentations on the phone with someone in order to defraud them. Other times, however, wire communications are not used to complete the fraudulent offense, but rather to conceal the fraud or fool the alleged victim. As long as the use of wire communications is related to a fraudulent scheme, the government can bring wire fraud charges.

The government can even convict someone of wire fraud even if no one falls for the fraudulent scheme. What’s critical in these cases is the intent to defraud. The issue is not whether money was actually taken, but whether someone tried to take someone else’s money by making false promises or statements.

The penalties for wire fraud include a prison sentence of up to 20 years (30 years if the case involves federal disaster relief funds or a financial institution), restitution to any victims and a fine set by the judge.

Possible Enhancements in Drug Conspiracy Cases

It’s important to be familiar with laws that “enhance” the sentences for certain drug offenses. These laws dramatically increase the mandatory minimum sentences in drug conspiracy offenses.

There are two ways that the government can apply these enhancements:

  1. If an individual dies or is seriously injured as a result of using the controlled substance involved in the drug conspiracy. This enhancement can only be applied if the government proves that the deceased individual would not have died or been injured but for the fact that they consumed the controlled substance involved in the offense.

  2. If the person being charged with a drug crime has one or more prior felony convictions for drug offenses. Under 21 U.S.C. § 851, the government must give notice to the court and the defendant that it is seeking this enhancement, and it must identify the particular prior convictions it is relying upon.

What are Mail Fraud Charges?

Like wire fraud, a federal mail fraud case has the same basic elements – a person makes false representations or promises, with a clear intent to defraud someone – but they use the mail instead of the internet or some other type of wire communication. To convict a person charged with mail fraud, the government must prove that the person made materially false promises or representations with the clear intent to defraud another and that they used the mail to accomplish the fraud.

A person can be convicted of mail fraud even if they used the mail after their fraud is completed, as long as their use of the mail was related to their fraud. Using the mail to conceal the fraud or lull the victim into a false sense of security, for example, constitutes mail fraud. A person who sells a person a house based on fraudulent misrepresentations can be prosecuted for mail fraud if he later has the court send the buyer the deed in the mail.

A conviction for mail fraud can result in a 20 year sentence, restitution to any victims, and fine determined by the judge. If the fraud involves federal disaster relief funds or a financial institution, a conviction can result in up to 30 years in prison.

Defenses against Wire Fraud Charges

There are several valid defenses for those charged with mail or wire fraud. Some of the more common defenses include:

  1. There was no “fraudulent intent.” A person can’t be convicted of mail fraud just because they told a lie in a letter they sent someone. Rather, a person must make a false statement with a specific intent to cheat someone, usually out of their money or property. There is no criminal intent if the false statements in question are exaggerations or sales “puffery.” A car dealer who advertises a car as the fastest in the world, for example, is not necessarily committing fraud.
  2. The statements made were not “knowingly false.” Even if the government can prove a person said something untrue, that person cannot be convicted of mail fraud unless they knew they were lying. The “good faith” defense exists when a person makes a false representation or promise without knowing it’s untrue. The government has to provide evidence that the person knew the statement was false specifically at the time they made it.
  3. The false promise or misrepresentation was not material. The government must prove that a person’s false promises and misrepresentations in a fraud offense were “material.” A “material” statement is the kind of statement a person may rely on, as opposed to a statement about something trivial. In fraud offenses, material misrepresentations are false statements that involve false information likely to trick or cheat someone.
  4. The use of mail or wire communications was not related to the fraudulent scheme. It is a valid defense for a person to argue that, even if they did commit fraud, neither the mail or the wires were used in connection with that fraud. The government doesn’t just have to prove that the mail or the wires were used, it must prove that they were used to further the fraudulent scheme.
  5. The government evidence was illegally obtained. Evidence in fraud cases often includes communications and financial information derived from government searches and wiretaps. Since the government must first obtain orders authorizing searches and wiretaps before collecting this type of evidence, a person charged with mail fraud can have the evidence “suppressed” if their constitutional right against “unreasonable searches and seizures” is violated.

Of course, we have also been very effective in reducing the sentence our clients face in these cases by focusing on the calculation of the “loss amount” under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Sentencing in a fraud case is primarily determined by these Guidelines, and these Guidelines are complex and frequently being amended by Congress and the Sentencing Commission. We have saved our clients many years of prison time by creatively arguing for a favorable application of the Guidelines, and by presenting judges with positive character evidence that shows our client is more than just what crime he or she may have been charged with in their case.

Mail and wire fraud prosecutions are usually complex and involve a lot of financial information and other documents that require expert review and analysis. If you have been charged with mail or wire fraud, you need an experienced criminal attorney who will defend your legal rights.

We have successfully represented clients in federal criminal cases across the United States. Our firm has offices in Atlanta GA, Alexandria VA, and Washington DC, and we frequently travel to other federal courts to represent people in serious federal criminal cases.

Subscribe to The Federal Docket to keep on top of recent cases and important developments in federal criminal law.

Wire Fraud Conspiracy Charges

Many wire and mail fraud cases also involve conspiracy charges. A wire fraud conspiracy charge, or a mail fraud conspiracy charge, requires the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that two or more people agreed to defraud someone by using the mail or by using some form of wire communication. The key issues in wire and mail fraud conspiracy cases are usually the existence of a common scheme or plan, and proof that the person being charged actually knew about the plan and agreed to join in it.

There does not have to be an agreement to specifically use the mail or wire communications as part of the fraudulent scheme. As long as it was foreseeable that one of the conspirators would use the mail or wire communications to further the group’s fraud, all of the co-conspirators can be prosecuted for the conspiracy.

Read about our firm’s success in federal criminal cases.

To learn what happens in a federal criminal case, watch our federal crimes video.

If you want to know how to get the lowest possible sentence in federal court, watch our video on the Federal Sentencing

Defenses to a Drug Conspiracy Charge

There are six basic defenses to drug conspiracy crimes:

  1. There was no agreement – This is a straightforward defense that asserts the government cannot prove the existence of a conspiracy. No agreement exists, for example, where the individuals involved do not share a common goal and are not working together. Similarly, there may be an agreement between multiple people to accomplish something, but if the objective is not illegal, the agreement is not a conspiracy.

  2. The person charged did not intend to join the agreement –  Like the defense that there was no agreement, this defense attacks the government’s case as lacking evidence. For there to be a conspiracy, one must intentionally join the conspiracy. This means taking an “overt action” to participate in the conspiracy. Jim and Bob may jokingly agree to rob a bank, and Bob may go out the next day and actually do it, but Jim is not guilty of conspiracy to rob a bank if Jim believed Bob was joking and he didn’t take any steps towards helping him rob that bank, such as renting a getaway car.

  3. The person charged was involved in a different conspiracy – This may sound counterintuitive, but a person has a valid defense if the conspiracy they are involved in is not the conspiracy they were charged with. The government may accuse a person of distributing heroin from their house, but if they were actually distributing marijuana, that’s a valid defense to the government’s accusations.

  4. The person charged withdrew from the conspiracy – Withdrawing from a conspiracy is a defense to a conspiracy, but it’s not enough to simply throw one’s hands up and say: “I quit.” In order to succeed with a withdrawal defense, a person has to have been pro-active in withdrawing from the conspiracy. This means showing that they took an affirmative action to stop participating in the conspiracy, that they informed your co-conspirators of their withdrawal, and that they withdrew before the conspiracy was complete. Sometimes, it also means a person withdrawing has to take steps to prevent the conspiracy from accomplishing its criminal objective, such as by notifying law enforcement.

  5. The person charged was entrapped by law enforcement – While this is a difficult defense to succeed on, it can be powerful when used correctly. Entrapment occurs when law enforcement essentially “traps” a person by convincing them to commit a crime they ordinarily wouldn’t have committed. The key to an entrapment defense is to show that the person wouldn’t have committed the crime but for the government’s actions to entice them. It’s not entrapment just because an undercover agent or government informant created an opportunity for a person to sell him drugs, but if they threaten that person, harass them, or pressure them to sell illegal drugs, that may be entrapment. Entrapment is similar to duress, which is a defense one can use if they were physically threatened to do something illegal.

  6. There was an illegal search or interrogation – The U.S. Constitution protects us from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” This means law enforcement generally has to have a valid search warrant before wiretapping a person’s phone, searching their house for drugs, or pulling them over to search their car. This also means law enforcement has to read you your Miranda rights if you are arrested, including your right to remain silent and not incriminate yourself. If the person charged can prove that the warrant for a wiretap or search of their house is not supported by probable cause or that law enforcement conducted a traffic stop without having any reasonable suspicion that that person committed a crime, they can ask a court to suppress evidence that was seized by law enforcement, meaning the government cannot use it against them in their case. In drug cases, that usually means the government cannot introduce the drugs themselves as evidence, likely killing their case. Similarly, if a person can prove law enforcement did not advise them of their right to remain silent, that person can have any self-incriminating statements they made suppressed. It is also always a good idea to determine whether any search that led to the discovery of drugs, currency or other evidence was legal. If evidence was discovered in a vehicle, the attorney will have to determine if the officer who stopped the vehicle had a sufficient reason to do so, or if voluntary consent was given by the person who had possession of the vehicle. If drugs were discovered in a home, the attorney will have to verify that the search was based upon a valid search warrant or other probable cause or consent. If the police violated a person’s rights, a judge may be required to suppress any evidence that was seized.

There are several other potential defenses available to a person accused of a drug conspiracy or another federal drug crime. In some cases, an affirmative defense like entrapment or duress may be available and successful if diligently pursued. A good lawyer will also consider whether other affirmative defenses may apply, depending on the specific facts of the case.

If you have been charged with a federal drug crime such as conspiracy, you need the assistance of an experienced federal criminal lawyer who will defend your legal rights. For many years, our firm has successfully represented clients charged with federal drug conspiracy and related offenses. We have won several federal drug trials and have successfully resolved others with very favorable pretrial rulings and plea agreements.

Subscribe to The Federal Docket to keep on top of recent cases and important developments in federal criminal law.

“If you need a great lawyer that will work hard for you, you need to call Page!”  

I hired Mr Pate to handle my federal 2255 appeal which was for ineffective council of a former attorney. He spent countless hours with my case load filing paperwork, meeting with me, more than one hearing in front of multiple judges etc. my 2255 was won and I had a sentence reduction fo all his hard work. 2255 are very hard to win and the odds are slim so if you need a great lawyer that will work hard for you and argue for you even harder in Court, you need to call Page! He and Mr Church both had my back all the way thru. Thanks to them both but especially Page Pate!

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