July 31, 2023

Check the spam inbox of your email account right now, and there’s a good chance that you probably have a handful of examples of federal wire fraud. Whether it be the classic message from the Nigerian prince seeking to send you millions of dollars if only you will provide your account details, a spoofing or phishing email from a fake account posing as your bank about an overdraft notice, or a false message threatening that the IRS is about to seize your assets, these are all examples of what are very likely going to be federal wire fraud. 

But federal wire fraud is not limited to just what are (hopefully) obvious attempts to separate gullible or vulnerable persons from their hard earned cash via spam emails. Federal wire fraud defendants can involve any number of otherwise seemingly legitimate business persons in the insurance, real estate, e-commerce, and numerous other industries who either intentionally or unintentionally use emails, phone calls, or digital or radio and television advertisements to conduct business. 

The penalties for federal wire fraud are significant, and individuals and organizations who face the threat of federal wire fraud investigation and/or prosecution are strongly encouraged to seek out experienced white collar criminal defense counsel at the earliest possible moment. 

The Federal Criminal Wire Fraud Statute

Wire fraud is a criminal act under the federal criminal code, punishable by a fine and up to 20 years in prison. A fine of up to $1,000,000 and imprisonment of up to 30 years may ensue if the wire fraud violation occurs with respect to certain federal disaster relief legislation. 

Pursuant to US Code 18 USC 1343, wire fraud is defined as devising or intending to devise any “scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises, transmits or causes to be transmitted by means of wire, radio, or television communication in interstate or foreign commerce, any writings, signs, signals, pictures, or sounds for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice…”

That definition is, admittedly, a bit difficult to parse out, but one federal court of appeals has defined the elements of federal wire fraud as follows: (1) that the defendant voluntarily and intentionally devised or participated in a scheme to defraud another out of money; (2) that the defendant did so with the intent to defraud; (3) that it was reasonably foreseeable that interstate wire communications would be used; and (4) that interstate wire communications were in fact used. Other federal circuits have defined federal wire fraud more simply as requiring only the two elements of a scheme or artifice to defraud, and the use of interstate wire communication to facilitate that scheme. 

What is a Scheme or Artifice to Defraud?

While the federal wire fraud statute does not define what a scheme or artifice to defraud is, the U.S. Supreme Court has defined those terms pursuant to the similar federal mail fraud statute to mean “wrongdoing one in his property rights by dishonest methods or schemes” and the “deprivation of something of value by trick, chicane, or overreaching.” Thus, the concept of a scheme or artifice to defraud should be understood quite broadly in assessing whether you or your organization may face a federal wire fraud charge. 

Notably, there is no requirement that there be any actual victim of the scheme or artifice to defraud for federal prosecutors to pursue federal wire fraud charges. 

Potential Defenses to Wire Fraud Charges

As with any federal crime, prosecutors are required to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a high har. That said, investigators and prosecutors have numerous tools available to them to obtain evidence against a wire fraud defendant, including subpoenas for written materials (including hard copy and electronic materials), obtaining the statements of voluntary witnesses, and search warrants.

Thus, it is critical to work with counsel to develop defenses to potential and actual wire fraud charges.  A common defense is that that defendant lacked the intent necessary to commit the crime, e.g. there was no intent to defraud others. For example, in an organization, management may not have been aware of what schemes employees or contractors were using on their behalf. Furthermore, a skilled criminal defense attorney can probe into whether the factual allegations made by prosecutors based on, for example, witness testimony, are accurate and/or whether they can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  

Contact a Los Angeles Wire Fraud Attorney Today

Whether you have already been charged with a crime in federal or state court, have been approached by law enforcement or an employer with questions regarding criminal activity, or are concerned about potential criminal ramifications of an action that you may have participated in or even simply been aware of, it is important to seek out experienced criminal defense counsel at the earliest possible moment to discuss your issues in a confidential environment and develop strategies and approaches to minimize your risk. The first steps one takes in responding to a potential criminal enforcement matter are often the most critical, and our attorneys have the experience and skills to counsel and defend you throughout the process to work towards an outcome that defends your freedom, financial interests, and reputation. Contact our office to speak with an experienced federal or state court criminal defense attorney regarding your situation today.

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