What to Know About Federal Honest Services Fraud

The concept of “honest services fraud” is rooted in the social desire to maintain integrity in public and private dealings. Under federal law, it is a criminal offense to deceitfully deny another person the rightful services they are owed.   

Honest services fraud is a relatively new concept in criminal law and is continuing to develop through appellate court decisions. At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law in Tampa, we monitor the decisions and all legal developments affecting honest services fraud prosecutions throughout the nation. Our focus in every federal fraud case is the appropriate application of the law to our client’s case, resisting at every opportunity the prosecution’s attempt to expand the reach of the criminal law beyond its intended limits. If you are under investigation or facing federal honest services fraud charges, contact our office for a thorough review of your individual case. 



The Law of Honest Services Fraud 

Honest services fraud is prosecuted within the broader spectrum of mail and wire fraud statutes, under 18 U.S.C. § 1346. This law criminalizes schemes to deprive another of the intangible right to honest services, typically through bribery or kickback schemes.  

While the statute is remarkably concise, its application is far-reaching. The statute defines a “scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services” as a covered offense under the wire and mail fraud statute. It includes a range of fraudulent activities that involve a breach of duty leading to personal gain at the expense of another’s right to fair and honest service. 

Traditionally, the honest services fraud statute has been a tool for prosecuting corrupt public officials as well as private individuals engaging in deceitful practices that breach a fiduciary duty.  

The statute’s scope was narrowed by the Supreme Court in Skilling v. United States. The Court ruled that the statute only applied to bribery and kickback schemes, providing clearer guidelines for what constitutes a violation. Prior to this ruling, the prosecution interpreted the statute to cover any “intangible” denial of honest services.  

Essentially, the Court offense needed to involve the victim’s loss of tangible property or funds through the accused’s deceitful scheme. 


Read More > What is Honest Services Fraud? 


Elements of Honest Services Fraud 

To prove a defendant guilty of honest services fraud, the federal prosecution must establish several critical elements: 

  • Scheme to Defraud: There must be a scheme designed to deprive another of the intangible right to honest services. 
  • Material Deception: The scheme involved materially deceptive actions, statements, or omissions. 
  • Intent: The defendant acted with the intent to defraud. 
  • Use of Mail or Wire Communication: The fraudulent scheme was furthered through the use of mail or wire communications, thereby invoking federal jurisdiction. 


Defenses Against Honest Services Fraud Charges 

Facing federal honest services fraud charges, like any federal prosecution, can be a frightening experience for any defendant. However, a knowledgeable defense lawyer can effectively use several strategies to challenge the prosecution’s case. The complexity often enables a skilled defense attorney to call the evidence into serious doubt. These cases often require an interpretation of actions and a judgment as to the applicability of the law to the facts at hand. 

  • Lack of Intent: Showing the jury that the defendant lacked the intent to commit fraud is a powerful defense. Honest services fraud requires a deliberate intention to deceive. Showing that any breach of duty was not intended to defraud the alleged victim. 
  • No Material Deception: Arguing that the defendant’s alleged actions or omissions did not constitute a material deception, or that they did not result in personal gain at the expense of another’s rights, can effectively undermine the foundation of the prosecution’s case. 
  • Challenging the Use of Mail or Wire Communications: Since the statute requires that the scheme be executed through mail or wire communications, demonstrating that this element was not proven by the prosecution can lead to charges being defeated. 
  • Vagueness and Overbreadth: In some cases, knowledgeable experienced defense attorneys can argue that the application of the honest services fraud statute to their client’s actions is overly broad or vague, especially considering the Supreme Court’s ruling in Skilling that narrowed the scope of the statute. 
  • Good Faith: If the defendant reasonably believed in the legality or honesty of their actions, their good faith belief can serve as a defense. Demonstrating that the defendant acted in good faith, under a genuine belief that their actions were lawful and did not constitute a breach of duty, can be an effective barrier to the prosecution proving fraud. 

Our approach to every criminal defense case includes a series of important tasks that allow us to identify and execute the best defense strategy for that client. We have four primary goals: 

  • Meticulously examining the prosecution’s evidence to identify weaknesses or potential areas for challenge.  
  • Crafting a tailored defense strategy that addresses the specific nuances of the case, leveraging legal precedents and the client’s circumstances. 
  • In some cases, negotiating with prosecutors to obtain reduced charges or alternative resolutions that are more favorable than a trial outcome. 
  • Effectively presenting the defense case in court, challenging the prosecution’s narrative, and advocating for the client’s rights and interests. 

Winning a dismissal or acquittal in honest services fraud charges requires dismantling the prosecution’s case by challenging the evidence of intent, the nature of the alleged deception, and the application of the law to the facts.  

Through a combination of legal skills, strategic defense planning, and thorough investigation, the lawyers at Stechschulte Nell can significantly impact the outcome of these charges. 


You Need the Experienced Federal Honest Services Fraud Defense Attorney 

For anyone accused of honest service fraud, hiring a defense attorney knowledgeable in federal fraud laws is paramount. Asserting the correct defense is essential and requires a sophisticated approach to resist the prosecution successfully.  

Give Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law a call at 813-280-1244. 

To learn more about how we can help

Contact us Today