Bank fraud is one of the top priorities for the FBI in Texas. This form of fraud often results in massive financial losses, which has resulted in federal laws that carry steep penalties for a bank fraud conviction. While a conviction can carry life-altering consequences, a guilty verdict is never guaranteed. There are many ways to fight back against these federal charges, and Board Certified Criminal Defense Attorney Doug Murphy is familiar with all of them.
Doug Murphy is an experienced Houston bank fraud defense lawyer. He earned his reputation as a detail-oriented and aggressive trial lawyer. Doug Murphy will aggressively fight for his client's freedom against federal crimes at trial. Call right away to schedule your free consultation.
What the Federal Government Needs to Prove Bank Fraud in Texas
The federal statute governing bank fraud may be found at 18 U.S. Code § 1344. There are two different ways a federal prosecutor could make a case for bank fraud. Bank fraud occurs when a person knowingly schemes or attempts to scheme:
- To defraud a financial institution; or
- To obtain any of the money, funds, credits, assets, securities, or other property owned by, or under the custody or control of, a financial institution, by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises.
In general, it is against federal law to use deception to take assets in the possession of the bank. The two prongs of the statute cover assets belonging to the bank and help by the bank for the benefit of others.
An important part of the government's case is establishing intent. Fraud does not occur by accident. It is a knowing, intentional act intended to defraud a bank or financial institution. If the prosecutor cannot show that you intended to commit fraud, the jury is likely to acquit you of the charge.
This type of fraud can occur in a variety of circumstances. It can involve unauthorized access to an account by a bank employee. It could also a person defrauding the bank by opening a credit card in the name of someone else. Regardless of the facts of each claim, the elements of the case are the same.
Examples of Bank Fraud in Houston, TX
To better understand the nature of bank fraud, consider the following examples.
Example #1: Check Kiting
Fred is short of money, and his bank account is empty. He writes a check to himself for $1,000, an amount that he does not have in his account. He takes the check to a different bank, who agrees to cash it. The bank hands him $1,000 and accepts the check. When they present the check to Fred's bank, they are rejected as the account cannot cover that amount. Fred has committed bank fraud.
Example #2: Forgery
Tim is a contractor. After he completes a job for Sandra, she writes him a check for the agreed-upon price of $1,000. Tim endorses the check but decides his services are worth more. Using a pen, he adds a one to the front of the amount, making it appear the check was for $11,000. He then presents the check to his bank in an effort to recover $11,000 from Sandra's account.
Example #3: Fraudulent Accounts
Jeff regularly steals his neighbor's mail. Over time, he recovers valuable identifying information from his neighbor including their birth date, social security number, and credit card number. Jeff uses this information to assume his neighbor's identity at a local bank. Using the information, he opens a credit card in his neighbor's name. In addition to bank fraud, Jeff could also face a variety of other federal crimes.
If you are convicted of bank fraud in Houston, the potential penalties are substantial. According to the statute, you could face a prison sentence of up to 30 years. You could also see a fine of no more than $1 million. While these potential penalties are severe, there is no requirement that you are sentenced to the maximum. Your attorney could work to have the charges against you reduced, or even argue for a light sentence if a trial result does not go in your favor.
In addition to prison time and fines, you could also face restitution. Restitution involves repaying the victim of fraud the assets they lost during the commission of the crime. In bank fraud cases, this amount could be significant. Remember that restitution is in addition to any court costs or fines levied by the judge.
These penalties could haunt you for the rest of your life. However, penalties only apply following a conviction. With the right legal counsel, you could win your trial and avoid a conviction entirely.
Common Bank Fraud Defenses in Texas
There are many potential defenses available to you in a bank fraud case. However, not every defense will fit every case. Identifying the right defense in your case takes the skill and experience of a practiced attorney. Some of the common defenses in a bank fraud case could include:
Lack of Intent
First and foremost, bank fraud is an intentional crime. An honest mistake or misunderstanding does not qualify as a crime under the statute. Be that as it may, prosecutors may not take your word for it. It is not easy to prove what you were thinking when you took a certain action. If you can demonstrate how you came to make a mistake during a bank transaction, you might be able to show a jury that you lacked the intent to commit a crime.
Lack of Evidence
Sometimes the strongest defense is simply pointing out the weakness of the government's case. The prosecution holds the burden of proof in a bank fraud case; it is their job to prove you broke the law. In some cases, it might benefit you to simply point to the flaws in the government's case. This defense often works with cases involving complex transactions. Your attorney could make the case that even assuming the facts of the prosecution's case are true, no crime has occurred.
While rare, financial crimes like bank fraud can occur under duress. Duress involves the commission of a crime against your will due to threats of violence or other harm. A duress claim could involve threats of physical violence against you or a loved one. In addition to threats of violence, duress could also involve threats of financial harm or embarrassment.
A powerful defense, in any case, involves the violation of your constitutional rights. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects you from unlawful searches or seizures by the government. If the police seize your property or search your home without a warrant, your attorney could move to exclude any evidence they discover from your trial. This doctrine is known as “fruit from the poisonous tree.”
While this defense could be used in a bank fraud case, the documents used against you are often already in the possession of the prosecution. Most forms of bank fraud involve fraudulent documents submitted to the bank, which makes police finding evidence of your guilt during a search less likely.
How a Strategic, Aggressive Houston Bank Fraud Attorney Can Help
When it comes to bank fraud, the stakes for a conviction are high. The financial impact can be severe, and that says nothing of the risk of facing decades in federal prison. It is important to put your defense in the hands of an attorney that is prepared to take on the federal government and win.
Attorney Doug Murphy has a track record of positive outcomes for his clients. He is never afraid of taking a case to trial when it will result in his client's best chance for success. Doug Murphy has earned an excellent reputation in the courtroom. To discuss your case in person, schedule a free consultation with the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. right away.