Whether you or a loved one has been arrested, or are under investigation for wire fraud or mail fraud, it is critical to consult with an experienced Miami wire fraud attorney as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected. You need the counsel of an experienced federal criminal lawyer to guide you through the process and maximize your chances of resolving your case with a favorable outcome.

What is Wire Fraud/Mail Fraud?

Wire fraud and mail fraud are basically the same fraud offense, the only difference being what type of communications are used in the commission of the crime —a “wire communication” in a case of wire fraud and the mail in a case of mail fraud. Wire fraud and mail fraud are federal crimes prosecuted by federal prosecutors. Organized fraud is a state criminal charge which is basically Florida’s version of mail and wire fraud.

To prove wire fraud or mail fraud, the government has to prove four elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • You knowingly devised or participated in a scheme to defraud someone by using false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises;
  • the false pretenses, representations, or promises were about a material fact;
  • you acted with the intent to defraud; and
  • you transmitted or caused to be transmitted by wire/mail some communication in interstate commerce to help carry out (in furtherance of) the scheme to defraud.

Scheme to Defraud

A scheme to defraud can apply to just about any kind of fraudulent scheme, from credit card fraud, insurance fraud, healthcare fraud, securities fraud, bank fraud, mortgage fraud, government fraud, to tax fraud—to name a few. Basically, any conduct or course of action intended to cheat or deceive someone out of money or property by using false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises, can be a “scheme to defraud.”

False or Fraudulent Pretenses

A communication is considered “false” or “fraudulent” if it’s about a material fact that you know isn’t true.  It can also be considered “false” or “fraudulent” if you recklessly make the statement without caring whether it’s true or not and you made it with intent to defraud.  The communication doesn’t have to be completely false as long as it is made with the intent to defraud. It can be a half-truth or just have the effect of concealing a material fact.

Intent to Defraud

In order to prove wire fraud/mail fraud, the government also has to prove that you had an intent to defraud. Acting with “intent to defraud” means intentionally using false or fraudulent communications or statements to cause a loss or injury to another. It’s important to point out that actually defrauding someone isn’t required for a conviction.  It’s enough for the prosecutor to show that you considered the potential harm and injury the person could suffer.

But it’s not enough for the government to simply prove that you had the intent to deceive someone. The prosecutor can’t prove that you intended to defraud without proving that you also intentionally tried to cause someone a loss or injury. Your deceptive representations have to go to the very nature of the bargain. The following example helps to illustrate what this means.

In a recent case, some defendants hired attractive young women to lure visiting businessmen into their nightclub to spend money. The government claimed that the defendants had engaged in a scheme to defraud the businessmen by not disclosing that the women worked for them and tricking the men into coming to the clubs. After the men were lured to the clubs, the women encouraged them to order drinks and bottles of alcohol at exorbitant prices. The defendants admitted that they tricked the men but argued that the businessmen ended up receiving exactly what they came for—drinks with the girls. Simply put, the club owners insisted the men got exactly what they agreed to pay for and were charged the amount they agreed to pay.

The Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals agreed with the men and ruled that a jury can’t convict someone of wire fraud based on “misrepresentations amounting only to a deceit” and that “even if a defendant lies, and even if the victim made a purchase because of that lie, a wire-fraud case must end in an acquittal if the jury nevertheless believes that the alleged victims ‘received exactly what they paid for.’” US v. Takhalov, 827 F. 3d 1307 (11th Cir. 2016).

Materiality

The element of materiality can be unnecessarily confusing. It really is just another way of saying whether or not certain conduct can be a scheme to defraud. To use the above example, the club owners’ deception—not telling the men that the women actually worked for the clubs—was not material to the clubs selling alcohol to the men. The men knew that they were buying alcohol, and they knew how much they were paying for it. The fact that they believed that the women were actually interested in them was irrelevant.

Use of Wires or Mail in Furtherance of Scheme

The final element of wire fraud/mail fraud requires the government to prove that in carrying out the fraud, you “caused” the transmission of a wire communication or mailing. The law does not require that you did it personally, only that you “caused” it. It’s enough that it was reasonably foreseeable that the communication would be made in carrying out the scheme. Also, because a mailing or electronic communication by itself is frequently innocent and/or routine, the question is whether the communication played a part in the execution of the scheme. The communication(s) doesn’t have to be used to obtain the property which is the object of the fraud. It’s enough if it had the effect of making the transaction less suspicious or stonewalling the person from inquiring further.

Possible Punishment for Wire Fraud/Mail Fraud

Wire fraud and mail fraud carry a maximum penalty of twenty (20) years in prison. If the fraud affects a financial institution, the maximum punishment increases to thirty (30) years imprisonment. After Hurricane Katrina, Congress passed a law that also made the maximum penalty thirty (30) years if the fraud relates to a natural disaster.

A conviction can also result in:

  • Supervised Release after a prison sentence
  • A fine up to $250,000 or up to $500,000 for an organization (up to $1 million in cases affecting financial institutions)
  • Restitution
  • Forfeiture

Defenses to a Wire Fraud/Mail Fraud

Possible defenses can include:

  • Constructive Fraud (unintentional conduct based on a misunderstanding of rules)
  • Good Faith (lack of intent)
  • Lack of Authority (fraud not authorized you)
  • Communication Not in Furtherance of Scheme
  • Puffing (e.g., exaggeration or flattery commonly used by salespeople to persuade potential purchasers, investors, etc.)
  • Statute of Limitations

Additional Resources

Wire Fraud – Additional information on wire fraud law and common schemes from Findlaw.

Wire and Mail Fraud – Wikipedia page on wire and mail fraud.

Contact an Experienced Miami Wire Fraud Attorney

Over the years, Mr. Edelstein has represented many clients in wire fraud/mail fraud cases. By taking the immediate action of hiring an experienced Miami wire fraud attorney to defend yourself, you are minimizing the chances that your case will have lasting consequences for your career, personal life, and reputation. CALL US NOW for a CONFIDENTIAL CONSULTATION at (305) 538-4545, or simply take a moment to fill out our securely encrypted intake form. The additional details you provide will greatly assist us in responding to your inquiry.

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