Wire Fraud Charges

We help people fight wire fraud charges.

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.

 

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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.

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.

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 more about 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 Guidelines.

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. For over 20 years, our firm has successfully represented clients charged with federal mail and wire fraud. Call us for a free and confidential consultation.

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