The penalties for federal mail and wire fraud are strict. If convicted, you face up to a maximum of 20 years in a federal correctional facility (up to 30 yrs., if you are convicted of bank fraud); your specific sentence will largely depend on the proven dollar or value amount(s) of actual, or intended, fraud losses. Full victim restitution is mandatory, and fraud penalties also include forfeiture of ill-gotten gains, personal property, and real estate. The elements of proof for mail and wire fraud are also simple and straight forward: a scheme or artifice to defraud [or obtain money through false and fraudulent pretenses]; willful participation in the scheme; and use of the U.S. mail or interstate wire communications [ e.g., phone, text, electronic communications, wire transfers, etc.]. Because virtually any pattern of human behavior or conduct can be conceptualized or portrayed by the government as an alleged fraudulent scheme, fraud is the go-to charge for federal prosecutors seeking to gain leverage over federal targets who may not necessarily be the ultimate goal of any particular investigation, particularly where use of the mail and reliance on electronic communication(s) are staples of every-day commerce and “conversation”.
However, just because the first and third elements of mail and wire fraud are easily alleged and quickly proven, it doesn’t mean fraud trials are always “easy sledding for the prosecution” or that fraud charges should not be contested; they often should be. This is because the required element of scienter, or evil intent, must also be proven. While federal juries are instructed that persons can be presumed to intend the natural consequences of their acts, and that intent may be proven circumstantially, no one can see directly into the mind of another. Also, “deception” or “cheating”, which underlie proof of defrauding another, are subjective terms; what may be cheating to one juror can sometimes be viewed as opportunism or exploitation by another. Similarly, the government must not only prove that the “false” statements or “assertions” by which “fraudulent pretense” is defined concern a material aspect of the matter in question (i.e., they must be material), but also that the defendant knew the statements or assertions he or she was making were, in fact, false at the time they were made. More often than not, the government’s failure of proof in particular fraud cases are the result of a deficiency of evidence introduced to establish this second required element. For these reasons, if you are facing federal fraud charges, it is critical you hire an experienced federal defense lawyer who understands exactly what must be proven by the government in order to convict a defendant of federal fraud-related charges and precisely where, and how, to attack the government’s fraud case against his client.