Despite the modern methods of communication that we use today, the laws regarding the misuse of such modes of communication remain relatively archaic. It is easier than individuals think to find themselves ensnared in the web of the justice system, grappling with the vague statutes that define mail or wire fraud.
Mail fraud occurs when an individual or entity defrauds another through use of a postal service, typically for the purpose of wrongful financial gain. Because the postal service is part of the federal government, mail fraud is a federal crime. While this crime can be committed against individuals, businesses, the government, and financial institutions, there are only two requirements prosecutors need to meet, to charge you with mail fraud:
- The defendant must in some manner have planned to defraud others.
- The mail must have been used to engage in that fraud.
The statute addressing mail fraud is purposefully ambiguous, giving prosecutors a great deal of discretion in how they interpret the statute. This poses an issue for any defendant charged with this crime. Discretion is employed by prosecutors to pursue the charges as they see fit, and while the law itself remains ambiguous, the penalties are anything but.
Wire fraud has been established as a crime because of advancements in modern communication. The main difference between wire fraud and mail fraud is that wire fraud charges are related to fraud perpetuated by the use of a telephone, interstate wires, or the internet, rather than the postal service. Also a federal crime, wire fraud requires that the defendant voluntarily engaged in the attempt to defraud another and doing so with the intent of defrauding others. Additionally, the defendant must have had knowledge that wire communications would be used to perpetuate the fraud, and that wire communications were in fact used for the purpose of the crime.
Ambiguous statutes, such as those involving mail and wire fraud, can be used to the advantage of prosecutors, who have enormous leeway in the scope of their investigations and the types of charges they bring. What makes these crimes even more alarming is that the punishment for both mail fraud and wire fraud are severe. If convicted of mail fraud or wire fraud, you could face up to 20 years in prison and be required to pay restitution and fines. If the charge involves defrauding a financial institution, the fine could be as extensive as $1,000,000, and defendants can face up to 30 years in prison.
Mail and wire fraud, as loose as the legal statutes are, have serious consequences for those who are accused and convicted. If you have been charged with any kind of mail or wire fraud, you need a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who is experienced with federal law and federal criminal defense. The procedure, rules of evidence, and investigation periods all differ from state law, so an experienced federal criminal defense attorney is essential. For more information and a free consultation, please contact Jeff Hastings.