Mail and Wire Fraud: Defending Against Federal Allegations

Mail and wire fraud at mailbox in Las Vegas, Nevada
Close-up Of A Postman’s Hand Putting Letters In Mailbox

Mail and wire fraud are federal criminal offenses that fall under the category of offenses commonly referred to as “white collar” crimes. Although white collar crimes are non-violent, financially motivated crimes, mail and wire fraud are serious offenses for which you can be sentenced to a lengthy term of imprisonment if convicted. If you are the target of a federal mail or wire fraud investigation, or you have already been charged with either offense, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced federal criminal defense attorney right away to ensure that your rights and your future are protected.

What Is Mail Fraud?

Governed by 18 U.S. Code § 1341, mail fraud is defined as “having devised or intending to devise a scheme to defraud (or to perform specified fraudulent acts), the use of the mail for the purpose of executing, or attempting to execute, the scheme (or specified fraudulent acts).”

Because mail is considered an instrument of interstate commerce, fraud conducted through the mail falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Letters, advertising brochures, or informational flyers related to fraudulent schemes (such as a Ponzi scheme) that are distributed through the mail are common examples of conduct that might be prosecuted as mail fraud.

What Is Wire Fraud?

Wire fraud is governed by 18 U.S.C. 1343 and is defined as a crime in which:

  • The defendant voluntarily and intentionally devised or participated in a scheme to defraud another out of money or something of value.
  • The defendant did so with the intent to defraud.
  • It was reasonably foreseeable that interstate wire communications (such as a computer, television, or telephone) would be used.
  • Interstate wire communications were in fact used.

A fraudulent email sent out in the hope of getting a target to share personal and/or financial information used to access the target’s financial accounts is a common example of conduct that might be prosecuted as wire fraud by the U.S. government.

What Are the Potential Penalties for Mail and Wire Fraud?

Both mail and wire fraud are felony offenses with a potential penalty of up to 20 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $250,000 for each act of fraud. The possible sentence is increased to 30 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $1 million if mail or wire fraud occurs in conjunction with a presidentially declared disaster, or involves a federal financial institution.

Are There Defenses to Accusations of Mail or Wire Fraud?

Being investigated for or charged with federal mail or wire fraud is cause for concern; however, defenses may be available to you that prevent a conviction. Only an experienced federal mail and wire fraud defense attorney can evaluate the unique facts of your case and decide what defenses apply, but some common defenses employed when a defendant is charged with mail or wire fraud include:

  • No knowledge or intent. The prosecution must prove that you had the intent to commit fraud to secure a conviction. If you were an unwitting participant (such as an employee) in a fraud scheme, you can use your lack of knowledge as a defense.
  • Mistake of fact. This defense may be available if you genuinely believed that what you were communicating or sending was not fraudulent.
  • Illegal search and seizure. If the government procured evidence against you through an illegal search and seizure, your attorney may be able to get that evidence excluded, meaning it cannot be used against you at trial.

What Should I Do If I Have Been Charged with Mail or Wire Fraud?

If you have reason to believe you are the target of a federal mail or wire fraud investigation, or you have formally been charged with either crime, you should consult with an experienced federal criminal defense attorney right away to preserve potential defenses and protect your future. Contact The Federal Defenders to discuss your legal rights and options by calling 800-712-0000 or contacting us online.