Despite its place as a “white collar” federal crime, wire fraud is a serious offense with serious consequences. It is also broadly worded, covering a wide range of potential criminal behavior. In the age of the internet, the majority of wire fraud cases stem from online activity. Given the potential for substantial financial damage, a wire fraud conviction carries steep penalties.
During the investigation or prosecution of a case involving wire fraud, the federal government has endless resources at its disposal. Despite the odds seemingly stacked against you, these cases are often defensible. A sound, aggressive trial strategy could see the charges against you reduced or even dismissed before you ever go to trial.
A successful outcome in a wire fraud case will not happen on its own, however. To put your strongest defense forward, seek guidance from a board-certified expert in criminal law. Call attorney Doug Murphy right away to face allegations of wire fraud head-on.
Defining Wire Fraud under Federal Law
The crime of wire fraud is governed by 18 U.S.C. § 1343. There are many different types of fraud under federal law. While they each share similar elements involving schemes to defraud another person, wire fraud is unique in that it requires the use of wire, radio, or television communication to perpetrate the fraud. Given the amount of communication that takes place electronically, this statute applies to a wide array of criminal offenses.
There are four unique elements required to prove wire fraud. They include:
- that the defendant voluntarily and intentionally devised or participated in a scheme to defraud another out of money;
- that the defendant did so with the intent to defraud;
- that it was reasonably foreseeable that interstate wire communications would be used; and
- that interstate wire communications were in fact used
Every case of wire fraud begins with a scheme to defraud another person of their money or property. This scheme must knowingly involve a misrepresentation in order to deprive another individual of something valuable. Not just any misrepresentation will result in a wire fraud conviction. The misrepresentation in question must be of a material fact. This means a misrepresentation about a minor or irrelevant fact is not enough to rise to the level of fraud. This misrepresentation does not have to be an outright lie. Merely leaving out an important fact could also result in a fraud conviction. This is known as a deceitful omission of facts.
Fraud must also be calculated to fool a person of “ordinary prudence.” This means the fraud must be sophisticated enough to fool the average person, but not so outrageous that the average person would see through it.
There is no requirement that the fraud attempt is successful, or that it result in the intended target losing anything of value. Merely attempting to commit wire fraud is enough for a conviction under the statute. In the end, it is the effort to defraud that is the crime, not the actual taking of another person's property.
Use of Wired Communication
The thing that sets wire fraud apart from other fraud offenses is the use of wired communication to advance the fraud. This could involve communication through radio, television, or digital communication. This is a broad element that includes sending faxes, communicating by email, or advancing the fraud through the use of the telephone among other things.
It is important to note that the use of wired communication does not have to be a central aspect of advancing the scheme. Instead, it is enough that the scheme was advanced using the form of wired communication in any way. That a trivial aspect of the alleged crime is enough to rise to the level of wire fraud can lead to a broad range of charges on the federal level.
Finally, intent plays an important part in the crime of wire fraud. Simple mistakes and unintentional communications are not enough to rise to the level of wire fraud. For a conviction, the prosecution must establish that you intended to defraud or deceive another person. It is not enough that you sent a fraudulent communication; you must have acted with the intent to move a fraudulent scheme forward. While intent is required, it is possible to obtain a conviction if the government can show you acted with reckless indifference to whether or not a material statement is true. In other words, it is fraud to make a material representation you should have known was true, even if you were unsure if it was untrue.
Pecuniary Loss vs. Honest Services Fraud
Most of the time, wire fraud involves an attempt to obtain money or property that belongs to another person. This is typically known as a pecuniary loss. However, not every case of wire fraud involves pecuniary loss. There is also another form of fraud known as “honest services fraud.” Honest services fraud involves the abuse of a position of trust. In most cases, this involves the acts of a government official.
Honest services fraud involves a person in a trusted position accepting either bribes or kickbacks. A kickback occurs when a government official conveys a benefit to another person that they otherwise would not be entitled to. That person then kicks back a portion of the benefit to the government official as payment. When this occurs through the use of wired communication, it counts as wire fraud.
Defenses to Wire Fraud
Because of the various types of potential wire fraud allegations, there is no simple way to identify the best defense for every case. However, there are certain defense strategies that are more common than others in a wire fraud prosecution. These defenses are not one size fits all. To ensure you build the strongest possible defense in your case, consult with an experienced federal criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
Many wire fraud cases are built with data contained on the private devices and serves of the defendant. However, law enforcement can only gain access to this data with your permission or a court order. If the government searches your property without your consent or permission from the courts, any evidence they find could be barred from your trial. By excluding this vital evidence, you could see your case dismissed before your trial date ever arrives.
Lack of Intent
As we discussed previously, wire fraud is a crime of intent. It is a key element that the prosecution must prove to obtain a conviction. If they fail to establish this element – even when every other element is present – acquittal is required.
Proving intent is never easy for the prosecution, as only you can say for certain what was in your head. However, the government can infer from your actions what your intention was at the time. Ultimately, the jury will determine if they believe you acted with intent or if this was all a misunderstanding.
Mistake of Fact
The mistake of fact is similar to the lack of intent defense in many ways. At its core, this defense is built on the fact that you did not intentionally act to defraud another person. This defense differs from lack of intent due to your genuine belief that the facts you represented were true. Even if you sent a material misrepresentation through wired communication, you could avoid a conviction if you were unaware that you had misrepresented anything at all.
Lack of Evidence
Finally, the simplest defense is to simply argue that the government failed to prove the case against you. This could involve a claim that you are actually innocent, or that the prosecution simply failed to build a case that met their burden of proof. The important factor with a lack of evidence defense is not the case that you put on to rebut the government's evidence. Instead, the central point of this defense is to show that – all things equal – the case that government put forward does not show beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed a crime. If the government cannot meet this burden of proof, you must be acquitted.
Penalties Upon Conviction
Like most federal fraud statutes, wire fraud carries steep criminal penalties. Upon conviction, you could face serious fines, a maximum prison sentence of up to 20 years in a federal facility, or a combination of the two. These penalties can increase under certain circumstances. If the alleged victim in a wire fraud crime is a financial institution like a national bank, the maximum prison term increased to 30 years.
Let a Houston Federal Defense Lawyer Assist You
The prospect of defending yourself against accusations of wire fraud can be stressful. The federal government has endless resources and technical experts they can rely on. With so much stacked against you, it is crucial that you seek out experienced legal counsel immediately.
Attorney Doug Murphy is a board-certified expert in criminal defense law. He has experience facing down the federal government and winning. To discuss your defense options, schedule a free consultation with the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. right away.