New York Fraud Lawyers Explains the Crime of Wire Fraud
Wire fraud and its close companion mail fraud are two federal crimes often filed against defendants facing a host of other charges. In general, wire and mail fraud are criminal charges that address the unlawful use of communication services or the U.S. Postal Service in order to commit a crime. In today’s technological age, it is virtually impossible to communicate with another person, aside from face-to-face, without using some form of wire service. Likewise, mail fraud can occur anytime the U.S. Postal Service is used at all, in furtherance of the fraudulent scheme. Unlike wire fraud, which must occur across two or more states, mail fraud can involve mailings within the same state, county or zip code. If you are facing wire or mail fraud charges, a New York fraud lawyers can help you combat the government’s allegations and restore your reputation.
Understanding Wire Fraud Laws
Wire fraud laws are found under federal statutes because this type of crime necessarily involves two or more U.S. or international jurisdictions. Therefore, the federal government maintains jurisdiction over the prosecution of wire fraud and related crimes. It is uncommon for a wire fraud charge to stand alone, as the underlying basis of wire fraud is always some other crime which is further perpetrated through the use of a wire.
To begin, the federal government defines “wire” as any electronic, radio or television communication. The “communication” element pertains to writings, signs, signals, pictures or sounds. The wire communication must be made pursuant to interstate commerce, which simply means across two or more states (or between the United States and another nation).
In order to successfully prosecute a defendant for wire fraud, the prosecution must meet four elements:
- The defendant “voluntarily and intentionally devised or participated in a scheme to defraud another out of money”
- The defendant had an intent to defraud another
- It was “reasonably foreseeable that interstate wire communication” would be involved in the plan
- Interstate wire communicates were, in fact, used to perpetuate the intended fraud
As you can see, the government must prove intentional conduct in virtually every element of a wire fraud charge, which is often difficult to establish.
Mail fraud is a very similar charge to wire fraud, with one notable exception: there is no “interstate commerce” requirement for a successful mail fraud charge. There are two elements that a prosecutor must meet in order to successfully advance a mail fraud charge, which include (i) the defendant devised a plan to defraud (or intended to devise a plan), and; (ii) the defendant used the mail system to execute (or attempt to execute) the fraudulent acts. According to federal prosecutorial policy, as found in the U.S. Attorney’s Manual, federal mail fraud charges should be reserved for “any scheme which in its nature is directed to defrauding a class of persons, or the general public, with a substantial pattern of conduct.” Less serious mail fraud, including isolated events between a small number of individuals, are to be litigated in state-level civil or criminal courts.
Penalties Under Federal Laws
Penalties for wire or mail fraud are extremely steep, with exceptionally high fines and extensive potential jail sentences. Under federal wire fraud law, the maximum sentence following a conviction is 20 years. However, if the communication involved fraud following a major disaster or emergency, or affected a financial institution, the maximum jail sentence is increased to 30 years, along with a maximum $1 million fine.
Federal law carries an identical penalty for mail fraud, which is codified under U.S.C. § 1341 – “Frauds and Swindles.”
Defenses to Mail and Wire Fraud
There are a number of defenses available to an experienced New York fraud lawyers, namely the defense of lack of intent. As explained above, the prosecution must prove that the defendant actually intended to commit a fraudulent act using wired or electronic communication. This requires a showing, first and foremost, that the defendant intentionally and knowingly set out to defraud another person, which is difficult threshold to meet. In other words, the government cannot successfully prosecute a person for wire fraud if the underlying fraud was committed by accident or pursuant to negligence or ignorance. The government must show, through specific evidence, that intentional and knowing conduct was occurring.
Federal law maintains a handful of affirmative defenses to wire and mail fraud, beginning with the affirmative defense of good faith. According to published federal jury instructions, the following points are to be considered by a jury when considering whether a good faith defense applies:
- If a defendant can show good faith, this is a complete defense to a charge of fraud, as good faith “on the part of the defendant is….inconsistent with an intent to defraud.”
- “A person who acts….on an [opinion] honestly held is not punishable” under federal fraud laws. An honest mistake does not give rise to a finding of criminal conduct.
- However, an honestly held opinion cannot be considered good faith if the defendant makes false representations or promises to others.
- There is no precise definition of “good faith;” however, it is considered an “absence of malice or ill will and an intention to avoid taking unfair advantage of another.”
- It is the government’s burden to prove a lack of good faith.
Contact our New York Wire Fraud Lawyers Today
If you are facing a mail fraud or wire fraud case, understand that the stakes are extremely high, and a conviction can leave lifelong consequences. To avoid this disastrous result, please contact a New York wire fraud attorney right away for assistance in mounting your defense and defeating the government’s charges. There are very specific mental intent requirements contained within the mail fraud and wire fraud statutes, and even the slightest doubt that you had intent to scam others out of money or property must result in your acquittal. To speak with a New York fraud attorney right away, call Frederick L. Sosinsky at (212) 285-2270 right away.