Mail and Wire Fraud: Frequently Asked Questions

Because we rely so heavily on the mail system and other forms of communication, mail and wire fraud are commonly-charged white collar crimes. If you are accused of committing fraud, all it takes is a single mailing, telephone call, or email to trigger mail and wire fraud charges. These are serious federal crimes that carry heavy consequences. 

At Barnes Law, we have the experience and skill that you need to face your mail and wire fraud charges and get a fair result. Knoxville criminal defense attorney John Barnes can help you understand the charges, explain your options, and get you through this difficult time. If you’re facing mail and wire fraud charges and don’t know what to do, call us at 865-805-5703 or contact us online

What is Mail Fraud?

Mail fraud is broadly defined under federal lawas any attempt to commit fraud or perform a fraudulent act by using any mail system, including the United States Postal Service, as well as private carriers such as FedEx or UPS. 

The most well-known form of mail fraud is a Ponzi or pyramid scheme such as the one run by Bernie Madoff. Other common forms of mail fraud involve mailings soliciting donations for fake charities, mortgage finance schemes, and fictitious lotteries and other contests. 

It’s important to keep in mind that the fraud does not need to have anything to do with the mail itself. You can be charged with mail fraud simply because you used the mail system as part of your business.  

What is Wire Fraud?

Wire fraud is also a federal offensebroadly defined as any attempt to commit fraud by using telephone lines or other electronic means of communication. 

An extremely common and well-known example of wire fraud is the “Nigerian Prince” email scam. Wire fraud also includes email phishing, telemarketing scams, and other attempts to commit fraud via the telephone, email, and the internet. 

Are Mail and Wire Fraud Federal or State Crimes?

Mail fraud and wire fraud have been federal crimes since 1872. This is primarily because mail and wire fraud frequently cross state lines, and are therefore subject to federal jurisdiction. However, they also typically use either the federal mail system or other interstate means of communications.

Why am I Being Charged with Mail and Wire Fraud in a State Where I Don’t Live?

The rules of federal jurisdiction allow you to be indicted and tried in any state where the fraud took place. 

For example, let’s say someone ran a mortgage fraud scheme out of an office in the District of Columbia.  However, all of the mailings were sent from a mailing address right across the border in Maryland. The mailings were sent to people in 13 different states, including Tennessee. Federal prosecutors could charge the defendants in DC, Maryland, or any one of the states where the victims received their mail.

Federal prosecutors choose where they file the charges based on a number of factors. They may choose a particular state because that state was impacted more than the other states. Alternatively, there may be political reasons behind the choice. And of course, federal prosecutors are likely to choose the state where they believe they have the best chance of obtaining a conviction.  

What Are the Elements of Mail or Wire Fraud?

Every crime has elements (or parts) that the prosecution must prove in order to obtain a conviction. If the prosecution cannot prove one or more of the elements of the crime, the charges should be dismissed, or the jury should acquit the defendant.

There are three elements of wire and mail fraud:

  1. A scheme or plan to commit fraud;
  2. The intent to commit fraud;
  3. The use of interstate mails or wire communications

Again, mail and wire fraud are defined very broadly. Merely using the mail or the telephone can trigger mail and wire fraud charges.

Can I be Convicted Even if I Didn’t Steal Any Money?

Yes, you can be convicted even if you didn’t benefit in any way from your actions. The prosecution only needs to prove that you intended to commit fraud and does not need to prove that anyone was actually defrauded.

What are the Potential Penalties?

Mail and wire fraud are serious federal crimes and prosecutors are aggressive in pursuing convictions. It’s important to note that you can be charged with a separate crime for each alleged act of fraud – for example, each mailing can trigger a separate count for mail fraud. In addition, you can be charged with multiple counts for both mail and wire fraud. As a result, the penalties can quickly add up and seem overwhelming. The possible penalties for each count of mail and wire fraud are as follows: 

  • Prison sentence of up to 20 years
  • Individuals can be fined up to $250,000
  • Organizations can be fined up to $500,000

In addition to prison time and hefty fines, a felony conviction for mail or wire fraud will be public record. Your reputation could be irreparably damaged, and a conviction could harm your prospects of future employment.

What are the Possible Defenses? 

There are defenses that can be successfully argued in order to avoid a conviction for mail and wire fraud. Here are some of the defenses that can be raised:

  • Lack of intent. In order to be found guilty, you had to intend to commit fraud. What may appear to be fraud to the prosecution, may be the result of poor management, reckless business practices, or simple negligence. 
  • Good faith. Another defense that relies on a lack of intent to commit fraud, here it is argued that you had an honest, good faith belief that the venture would be successful for everyone involved. 
  • Puffery. Every business engages in some “puffery” in order to sell their product or service. To put in another way, representations that were made about potential success were statements of opinion, minor exaggerations, or otherwise immaterial. 

Contact a Knoxville Tennessee Mail and Wire Fraud Defense Attorney

Mail and wire fraud charges are complex and aggressively prosecuted. Criminal defense attorney John Barnes can help you face your mail and wire fraud charges and get you a fair result. Don’t delay and jeopardize your future – call us at 865-805-5703 or contact us onlineto schedule a free consultation.  

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