Federal Wire and Mail Fraud Offenses

Generally speaking, the term “fraud” refers to allegations of a deliberate and wrongful misrepresentation for the purpose of personal gain. There are many specific types of fraud that are prohibited by federal law, including bank fraud, telemarketing fraud, tax fraud, and identity theft.

Additionally, federal law has criminalized the use of certain forms of communication in executing fraudulent activity, including use of the U.S. postal service and certain forms of online and electronic communication, referred to by the law as “wire communication.” While allegations of mail and wire fraud can be brought by the government as stand-alone cases, such charges may be coupled with additional charges regarding the alleged underlying fraud. In other cases, mail and wire fraud statutes may be used to prosecute an alleged fraud that is not specifically addressed by another statute, such as mortgage fraud.

These cases may be linked to alleged complex financial fraud schemes and, as such, can involve serious legal consequences, including the possibility of significant fines and imprisonment. In many cases, however, there are a number potential defenses that a skilled Virginia federal mail or wire fraud attorney can employ.

Elements of Mail Fraud

Federal mail fraud is defined and prohibited by 18 U.S. Code Section 1341. It has a scheme to wrongfully acquire money or property. The more common charges alleged include mortgage fraud, pyramid schemes, Ponzi schemes, and securities fraud. According to the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Criminal Resource Manual, there are two key elements that the government must prove in order to establish that a person engaged in mail fraud:

  • That he or she devised a scheme or intended to devise a scheme to defraud, and
  • That he or she used the U.S. mail with the intention of executing or attempting to execute the fraud

If an individual is convicted, the penalties for wire fraud include a potential fine of up to $250,000 as well as maximum 20-year prison sentence.

Federal Wire Fraud

The federal wire fraud statute, 18 U.S. Code Section 1343, prohibits the use of electronic communications to carry out a plan to wrongfully obtain money or property. Generally, “electronic communication” refers to the use of the telephone, Internet, fax, or television. Some common federal wire fraud charges include accusations of identity theft, securities fraud, mortgage fraud, and investment fraud. The elements that the government must prove in a federal wire fraud case mirror those of the mail fraud statute, but require that the defendant used some form of electronic communication rather than mail. The DOJ’s Criminal Resource Manual lists the elements or wire fraud as:

  • The existence of a scheme to defraud others, and
  • The use of interstate wire communication to effectuate that scheme

Penalties authorized by the wire fraud statute include a fine of up to $250,000 and a prison sentence not to exceed 20 years. If the alleged fraud affects a financial institution or benefits connected with a major emergency or disaster that has been declared to have impacted the country on a national scale, the potential penalties increase to a fine of up to $1 million and up to 30 years in prison.

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