Wire fraud is a serious federal criminal offense that is among the most frequent charges brought by agents of the U.S. Justice Department. The reason it is so common is that the law prohibiting wire fraud is so easily violated during the commission of other related offenses.
In this blog post, we’ll look at what wire fraud is, how a person commits wire fraud, and how an experienced wire fraud defense lawyer can often successfully defend clients who are indicted under the wire fraud statute.
In the Tampa and St. Petersburg area, attorneys Ben Stechschulte and Amy Nell have extensive experience representing people indicted by federal grand juries for violating white-collar offenses, including wire fraud, bank fraud, money laundering, and a long list of other federal offenses. Federal court defenses require attorneys with federal court experience. If you need an aggressive, knowledgeable federal defense lawyer, you can trust Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law.
What Is Wire Fraud?
Wire fraud is a criminal offense defined by U.S.C. 18 U.S.C. 1343. A person commits federal wire fraud when they intentionally use any means of interstate or foreign communication in a scheme or to defraud any other person of something of value. The crime can be committed using a telephone to speak, text, or email someone during or in preparation to defraud another person. It can be accomplished by using a computer, a television, a radio, or any device employing a wire.
The form of fraudulent wire communications can be any writings, signs, signals, pictures, or sounds.
The penalty for wire fraud is up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine, per count. Each and every separate communication can support a separate count. The offense is committed even if the wire communication was limited to messages emailed back and forth between two coconspirators who were planning to commit fraud.
What the Government Must Prove for a Wire Fraud Conviction
The government must prove every “element” of the offense to win a conviction. That means they must present admissible, reliable evidence and proof convincing a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. If any element, or component of the crime, is not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, then the defendant is entitled to an acquittal.
These are the elements of wire fraud under federal law:
- The defendant participated in a scheme to defraud another person,
- knowingly did so with the intent to defraud,
- either made false representations or was part of a scheme in which false representations were made that related to the fraud,
- and transmitted a “material” misrepresentation by wire, telephone, radio, television, or any form of communication.
The crime is completed even if the fraud never occurs. And the defendant need not be the person who transmitted the material misrepresentation in order to be convicted. A coconspirator can have done the communicating.
Defense to Federal Wire Fraud Charges
Wire fraud can only be committed by someone who knowingly acts with an intent to defraud the victim. It cannot be committed accidentally.
Any crime involving fraud requires the prosecution to prove that the defendant had the specific intent to defraud. Unless the government can establish that fact, the defendant will prevail. That’s why many of the most potent defenses federal wire fraud defense lawyers use relate to the defendant’s state of mind.
No Intent to Defraud
The evidence in the case may permit several different conclusions to be drawn about the defendant’s state of mind at the time of the alleged acts the government claims were fraudulent. If the government cannot discount the reasonable alternative intentions the defendant may have acted under, then no conviction could be sustained. Successfully raising doubt about the singular conclusion involving the defendant’s state of mind will defeat a wire fraud allegation.
Good Faith Mistake of Fact
It is a defense against a criminal wire fraud charge if the defendant did in fact communicate false information by use of a wire to an alleged victim but did so under the mistaken belief that the information was true or accurate.
Again, a person must intend to commit fraud. If someone loses something valuable because of a misrepresentation made by the defendant, no crime occurs unless the misrepresentation was made with the specific intent to defraud the defendant. Being mistaken, misinterpreting data, or misreading the source of the information from which the misrepresentation arose is not criminal conduct.
Unintended, Constructive Fraud
This defense relies on the defendant’s utter negligence or recklessness in conducting their business affairs which are alleged to constitute “intentional” fraud. An experienced wire fraud defense lawyer may either have sufficient financial expertise or may hire a forensic accountant to review the defendant’s business records. They may well disclose a frequently careless system of operating that is consistent with a lack of intent to defraud.
While “constructive fraud” does not support a criminal conviction, it can form the basis of a civil suit for which substantial damages can be recovered by those injured by reckless business practices.
The Statute of Limitations Expired
The statute of limitations applying to federal wire fraud charges is 5 years. If five years have elapsed from the date on which the last alleged fraudulent communication was transmitted, then the government’s indictment is too late and should be dismissed.
But, if your defense lawyer doesn’t notice that the charges relate to activity that stopped over five years earlier, the indictment will not be dismissed. The statute of limitations defense is what is called an “affirmative defense,” meaning that if the defense is not affirmatively raised before trial, then the defense is waived.
In the hands of an inexperienced defense lawyer, it is legally possible for a defendant to be convicted and imprisoned even though the statute of limitations would have barred the prosecution had the lawyer raised the defense.
Wire Fraud Defense