Federal Penalties for Wire Fraud

Wire fraud is an increasingly common federal offense that can be filed against those who use telecommunications or the internet to carry out schemes intended to defraud or obtain money or property under false pretenses. The scope of activities that may be covered by the federal wire fraud statute is wider than many people imagine.  


At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, we have extensive experience successfully representing individuals facing criminal fraud charges in both federal and state court. We understand how upsetting it is to be drawn into the criminal justice system. Ben is among the two percent of Florida lawyers who are board-certified in our field of practice. We maintain the highest standards of professionalism and have a deep knowledge of applicable law and legal procedures. 


If you are under investigation or charged with a fraud-related crime, contact our office for a full review of your legal situation and your available options. 



What Is Wire Fraud? 


Federal wire fraud is outlined under 18 U.S.C. § 1343, which makes it illegal to use interstate communications devices in furtherance of fraudulent activities. The statute can be violated by the use of any method of electronic or digital communication, including but not limited to telephone, email, text, messaging apps, social media, television, or radio.  


Definition and Legal Elements of Wire Fraud 


Wire fraud requires the presence of a “scheme or artifice” to defraud or obtain money or property by false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises. Someone must use wire, radio, or television communications in interstate or foreign commerce to commit the crime.  


To convict a person of federal wire fraud, prosecutors must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt: 


  • The Existence of a Scheme to Defraud: There must be a plan or scheme designed to deceive others to obtain money or property dishonestly. 
  • Intent to Defraud: The charged defendant must have intended to defraud someone else. This means there was a specific intent to deceive or cheat. 
  • Interstate Wire Communications Were Used: Electronic communications that cross state lines were used in furtherance of the scheme. This element broadens the scope of the law to cover a wide  
  • Reliance on the Scheme: The prosecution must prove that the deceitful representations were material. Materiality is a term in law that means the statement must have been capable of influencing or inducing the victim to part with their money or property. 


Penalties for Wire Fraud 


The federal law’s penalty for wire fraud is severe. The government focuses heightened attention on investigating and prosecuting wire fraud because the development of communication technology in the last decade has created many new electronic avenues for people to be defrauded. 


Individuals convicted of wire fraud face  

lengthy prison sentences and significant fines.  


The sentence imposed is determined by the specific facts of each case, including the amount of money involved, the harm caused to the victim, and the defendant’s previous criminal history. 


Federal Prison 


Under federal law, wire fraud can result in a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison. However, if the wire fraud involves a financial institution or is connected to a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency, the maximum sentence increases to 30 years. 




In addition to prison time, if an individual is convicted of wire fraud, they can be fined up to $250,000. If the defendant is an organization, the fine could be up to $500,000. If the fraud affects a financial institution or is tied to a disaster or emergency, the fines can climb up to $1 million for each count. 




In addition to serving prison time and paying large fines, federal courts usually order those convicted of wire fraud to pay restitution to their victims. Restitution is often the most important priority for victims of wire fraud. Many victims lose much more to fraudulent schemes than they can afford, often their life savings. 




Federal law also provides for convicted individuals to forfeit the proceeds of their criminal acts. In wire fraud cases, the court will order any profits or property the defendant obtained through the fraudulent scheme to be forfeited. This is similar to the practice in securities fraud cases in which the court orders the “disgorgement” of wrongly obtained profit to prevent the person from being unjustly enriched by their illegal activity. 


Aggravating Factors and Sentencing Considerations 


Other factors that influence the severity of penalties imposed for wire fraud are circumstances the law identifies as aggravating. The federal sentencing guidelines provide a framework that indicates a more severe sentence is appropriate when the case involves the loss of large amounts of money or high-valued property.  


For example, a wire fraud involving $6,500 or less will result in a 2-level increase in the offense level. But such a fraud that involves $1.5 million or more adds 18 offense levels. 


The number of people victimized in the scheme will also affect the sentence imposed in a wire fraud conviction. Offense levels increase in cases involving higher numbers of victims.  

Other aggravating factors that will increase the severity of the offense are targeting vulnerable victims (elderly or people with disabilities) and abusing a position of trust to further the fraudulent scheme.  


The court also considers the defendant’s role or level of responsibility in the fraud, their expression of remorse, and whether they obstructed the investigation. 


Legal Defenses to Wire Fraud Charges 


Defending against federal wire fraud charges requires an experienced wire fraud defense lawyer to challenge the prosecution’s evidence that relates to one or more elements of the crime.  


The central fact the prosecution must prove is that the defendant intended to deceive or defraud the alleged victim. Skilled federal wire fraud lawyers raise doubt about the defendant acting with any criminal intent. One common defense strategy involves arguing that the defendant’s statements were not material to the scheme. In some cases, the defense can also argue that the defendant’s actions were lawful or that they were unaware that their conduct constituted fraud. 


Only evidence lawfully discovered and seized is admissible in federal court. Challenging the admissibility of evidence on procedural grounds, such as by arguing that evidence was obtained in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights, is a powerful strategy when the defense can uncover law enforcement errors or failure to comply with required procedures.  


When used effectively, these are just a few of the many strategies a well-prepared defense lawyer can leverage to win an acquittal, a dismissal of the indictment, or a negotiated agreement for reduced charges or lower sentencing recommendations. 


Read More > What is the Difference Between Mail & Wire Fraud? 


Federal Wire Fraud Defense  


If you are under investigation or facing federal wire fraud charges in Florida, contact the experienced federal wire fraud defense lawyers at Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law. With offices in Tampa, Orlando, and Miami, we are ready to defend your case.  

Call 813-280-1244 for a case review today.  

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