There are countless types of fraud covered by the federal code. One of the most prevalent is known as mail fraud. Mail fraud involves the use of deception via the United States Postal Service (USPS) to trick another person into parting with something of value.
Due to the advent of the internet, many fraudulent schemes have shifted from mail fraud to wire fraud. That said, fraud through the mail is still commonplace. Given the financial impact this form of fraud frequently takes, federal authorities aggressively pursue these cases. Many times, this can lead to a rush to judgment by the government.
If you are under investigation for mail fraud, you should act quickly to secure legal counsel. Your attorney could advise you of the strength of the government's case and assist you with defending yourself against these federal charges. Get started on your defense by calling attorney Doug Murphy right away.
Elements Necessary to Prove Mail Fraud
There are three elements to the crime of mail fraud according to 18 U.S.C. Section 1341. A federal prosecutor must establish that all three of these elements exist to obtain a conviction. Should you convince a jury that even one of these elements was not proven by the prosecutor, they must acquit you of the crime. The elements of mail fraud include:
- A fraudulent scheme;
- Use of the mail system to advance the scheme; and
- Intent to defraud.
Every mail fraud case begins with a scheme. A fraudulent scheme can come in a variety of forms, but it will always include a material misrepresentation of fact. A material misrepresentation must be a critical piece of information related to the transaction. It must also be able to deceive a person with ordinary prudence. In other words, the misrepresentation must be believable to most people. A misrepresentation so outlandish that no reasonable person could believe it would not satisfy this element.
The term material misrepresentation could leave the impression that some sort of lie must be involved. That is not the case. Fraud can occur when information is withheld with the intent to deceive.
The authorities could bring mail fraud charges even if the scheme is ultimately unsuccessful. Merely attempting the act of mail fraud is enough to violate the statute.
Use of the Mail
What sets this type of fraud apart from other crimes is the use of the mail system. Fraud that occurs in person or over the internet will not qualify under this statute. There are multiple ways a fraudulent scheme could make use of the U.S. Mail. Each of them involves transmitting a materially false statement through the mail. This could occur by placing a letter with a material misstatement into a mailbox or handing it to a postal worker.
The use of the mail system does not have to be direct. If you instruct another person to take a letter to the post office, you could still face charges even though you did not deliver it yourself. The important part is the use of the federal mail system.
Intent to Defraud
Mail fraud never occurs by accident and is never the result of a mistake. For a conviction of mail fraud, you must have the intent to deceive another person. This is a powerful defense, even for someone that participated in a scheme. If you inadvertently took part in a mail fraud scheme but lacked the intent to commit a crime, you could avoid a conviction at trial. For example, if someone asked you to take a piece of mail to the post office and you did without knowing it was part of a mail fraud scheme, then you cannot be convicted.
Establishing intent can be challenging. While your attorney can make the case that you were unaware that a crime was taking place or that you had no intention of joining, the prosecutor will likely see things differently. Attorney Doug Murphy has extensive experience demonstrating his client's intentions to a jury.
Examples of Federal Mail Fraud
Examples could assist you in understanding the nature of mail fraud. Consider the following.
Ted is opening a technology company. He sends out hundreds of letters to prospective investors touting the backing of a well-known tech giant. Ted has never spoken to this person and has not secured their participation in the company. Many investors, impressed that a well-known technology executive sees promise in Ted's company, immediately sink large sums of money into the company. Ted could be found guilty of mail fraud.
Consider the example above. Ted is still opening a technology company, and this time he has spoken with the notable tech giant. Unfortunately, the tech executive made it clear he was not interested in investing. Ted sends a letter to prospective investors that includes a picture of Ted with the executive. The letter states that Ted has spoken with the tech giant to join Ted's company. What the letter does not say is that Ted was already turned down. While Ted did not lie, a jury could find that he made an omission that rises to the level of fraud.
Joan works for Ted as a secretary. She has little understanding of what it is Ted actually does, but she follows orders well. When Ted drafts the fraudulent letters discussed in the other examples, he has Joan add postage and take them to the post office. While Joan played a critical role in moving the scheme forward, she was unaware of any criminal activity whatsoever. She is not guilty of mail fraud.
Penalties & Mail Fraud Convictions
The potential penalties for mail fraud are significant. According to the statute, a conviction could lead to 20 years in federal prison, steep fines, or a combination of the two. A person convicted of mail fraud involving a federal institution or during a natural disaster could spend 30 years behind bars.
A conviction could bring more than the direct penalties prescribed by statute. Mail fraud is a felony, meaning a conviction could curtail many of your rights. A conviction could cost you your right to own a firearm or vote. It could also make it difficult to obtain citizenship or find a new job. The collateral costs of a mail fraud conviction should not be ignored.
When your attorney reviews the facts surrounding your case, they must consider every potential defense that could apply. While several defenses might be viable, the strongest potential defenses stem directly from the statute.
As discussed above, criminal intent is necessary for a mail fraud conviction. If you could establish that you were an unwitting participant in a scheme you might be able to avoid a conviction.
Another potential defense is a mistake of fact. Many business transactions – especially those involving large amounts of money or multiple parties – can be difficult to comprehend. It could be possible that a written communication might seem fraudulent on its surface but ultimately is a straightforward business transaction. If you were confused regarding a material fact, it is not treated the same under the law as if you had intentionally misrepresented that fact.
Work with a Houston Mail Fraud Defense Attorney
Building a successful defense in a mail fraud case can take time. Unfortunately, you might not be aware of a mail fraud investigation against you until the point you are taken into custody. By that point, federal prosecutors could have been building their case for months or even years.
With so much stacked against you, it is important that you seek experienced lawyers right away. Attorney Doug Murphy has built a reputation as one of Houston's top criminal defense lawyers. He has extensive experience in federal court and is prepared to take on the government in your case. Call the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. to learn more.