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What are Wire Fraud and Mail Fraud?

Wire fraud (18 U.S.C. Section 1343) is a federal crimes that involves an individual making false promises or representations to defraud someone by wire communications.  These include telephone, tv/radio broadcasts, and the internet. Mail fraud (18 U.S.C. Section 1341) is similar to wire fraud, but mail fraud involves the use of a mail or postal service, such as U.S. Postal Service or Federal Express.

How Wire Fraud Cases Work

At times, wire fraud cases can be simple, such as a person who makes misrepresentations on the phone with someone for the purpose of defrauding them. In some scenarios, wire communications are not used to complete the crime, but rather to conceal the fraud or mislead the alleged victim. As long as the use of wire communications is connected to a fraudulent scheme, the government can file wire fraud charges.

The government can get a conviction against a person someone on wire fraud charges even if no one falls for the fraudulent scheme. The critical element in a wire fraud case is the intent to defraud. The issue is not whether money was stolen, but whether someone attempted to steal someone else’s money by making false promises or statements.

The sentencing for a wire fraud conviction includes a prison term of up to 20 years.  It could be 30 years if your case involves federal disaster relief funds or a financial institution.  You will also be required to pay restitution to any victims, plus a monetary fine as set by the judge.

How Mail Fraud Cases Work

A federal mail fraud case has the same basic elements as a wire fraud case does – an indvidual makes false representations or promises, with a clear intent to defraud another.  In these cases, they use the mail instead of any wire communications. To get a conviction on mail fraud charges, the prosecution must prove that the person made materially false promises or representations with the clear intent to defraud and that they used the mail to carry out the fraud.

A person can get convicted of mail fraud even if they only used the mail after their fraud is completed, as long as their use of the mail was connected to the fraud. Using the mail for the purpose of concealing the fraud or lulling the victim into a false sense of security, for example, constitutes mail fraud. For example, a person who sells a house to another individual based on fraudulent misrepresentations may be prosecuted for mail fraud if he later has the court send the buyer the deed in the mail.

The penalties for conviction for mail fraud include a 20 year prison term, restitution to any victims, and fines determined by the judge. In cases where the fraud involves federal disaster relief funds or a financial institution, a conviction can get you up to 30 years in prison.

Wire Fraud Conspiracy

Frequently, wire and mail fraud cases also include conspiracy charges. For wire fraud conspiracy charges or mail fraud conspiracy charges, the government is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that two or more people agreed to defraud others by using the mail or by using some form of wire communication. The key detail in wire and mail fraud conspiracy cases are usually the existence of a common scheme or plan agreed upon by two or more persons.  Proof that the person being charged actually knew about the plan and agreed to join in it is necessary for charges to hold up.

Note that the agreement that signifies conspiracy does not have to specifically be about using the mail or wire communications as part of the fraudulent scheme. As long as it was foreseeable that at least one of the conspirators would use the mail or wire communications to carry out the group’s fraud, all of the co-conspirators can be prosecuted on the conspiracy charge.

Possible Defenses Against Wire Fraud or Mail Fraud Charges

Several valid defenses are available for those charged with mail or wire fraud. Here are some of the more common defenses:

No Intent – if there was no “fraudulent intent”, a person cannot be convicted of mail fraud.  Even if they told a lie in a letter they sent someone, this charge is not valid. To prove mail or wire fraud, a person must make a false statement with the specific intent to cheat someone.  This usually involves trying to cheat them out of their money or property. No criminal intent can be proven if the false statements in question are simply exaggerations or sales “puffery.” For example, a car dealer who advertises a vehicle as the fastest in the world is not guilty of fraud.

Good Faith – If the statements made were not “knowingly false”, then fraud charges will not hold. Even in cases where the government can prove a person said something untrue, that person cannot be convicted of mail fraud unless they knew they were lying. A “good faith” defense is effective when a person makes a false representation or promise without knowing that it was false. The government has to bring evidence that the person was aware that the statement was false specifically at the time they made it.

Immaterial Statement – In matters where the false promise or misrepresentation was not material, no fraud has been committed.  The government must demonstrate that a person’s false promises and misrepresentations in a fraud crime were “material.” A “material” statement is the type of statement a person may rely on, as opposed to a statement about a trivial detail. In fraud cases, material misrepresentations are false statements that involve information that can be used to trick or cheat someone.

Unrelated Use of Mail or Wire Communications – You do not commit Wire Fraud or Mail Fraud if the use of mail or wire communications was not related to the fraudulent scheme. It is a valid defense to argue that, even if they did commit fraud, neither the mail or wires were used in relation to that fraud. The government isn’t only obligated to prove that the mail or the wires were used.  Prosecutors must demonstrate that they were used to further the fraudulent scheme.

Unreasonable Searches and Seizures – In some cases, it can be argued that the government evidence was illegally obtained. Evidence in fraud cases frequently includes communications and financial information obtained from government searches and wiretaps. The government must first get orders from a judge authorizing searches and wiretaps before collecting this type of evidence. We can have any evidence “suppressed” if your constitutional right against “unreasonable searches and seizures” was violated.

Reducing Sentences by the Loss Amount – Our lawyers have also been effective in reducing the sentence our clients face in these cases by zeroing in on the calculation of the “loss amount” under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Sentencing in a fraud case is customarily determined by the Guidelines.  These Guidelines are complex and are frequently amended by Congress and the Sentencing Commission. We have spared our clients many years of prison time by creatively arguing for a favorable application of the Guidelines.  Also, 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, we have won better outcomes for our clients.

Contact Us Today

Mail and wire fraud prosecutions are rather convoluted.  They involve a lot of financial information and other documents that necessitate expert review and analysis. If you or your loved one has been charged with mail or wire fraud, you need a seasoned criminal attorney to defend your legal rights. Our firm has successfully represented clients charged with federal mail and wire fraud for decades. Call us today for your free and confidential consultation.


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