Communication is essential to obtaining money or other value through a fraudulent scheme. Rarely is that communication strictly face-to-face. It almost always involves use of the mail (or one of the interstate delivery services), or of one or more modern electronic communication methods: phone, internet/e-mail, fax, etc. Accordingly, authorities prosecuting specific types of fraud—health care, identity, credit card, mortgage and many, many others—tend to also charge that mail and/or wire communications were used to further the primary fraud scheme. From the prosecutors’ view, this offers another chance for a conviction and gives added leverage in negotiating a possible plea agreement. For the accused, it increases the potential penalties, not to mention the cost of defending themselves; it may be enough to force them to take a plea deal, even though they firmly believe they are innocent. Due to this complexity, don’t hesitate to call a Tampa mail and wire fraud attorney if you have been charged.
State and Federal Laws
Both state and federal laws penalize the use of the mail or the various types of wire communications in furtherance of a fraudulent scheme. Florida’s Communications Fraud Act defines communication to include both mail and various electronic communications, which include all the common means of electronic communications such as e-mail, internet, fax, television and radio. Use of any of those means of communication to further a scheme is criminal communications fraud, punishable by up to 20 years (30 for defrauding certain types of victims), with the penalty geared to the value of the property obtained by fraud.
There are two separate federal laws, one applying to mail fraud (defined to include both the US postal service and private or commercial interstate carriers), the other covering wire, radio, and television. Again, both laws apply when the communications are used to further a fraudulent scheme. Under both federal laws, the penalty is a fine, up to 20 years in prison, or both.
Underlying Fraud Scheme Required; Intent
Under both the federal and Florida laws, the use of the communications is only criminal when done in furtherance of a fraudulent scheme. That requirement means that the prosecutors have to show all the elements of a fraudulent scheme, but there is no requirement that the scheme has been successful. The attempt at fraud is enough.
Because the basis of mail and wire fraud is that those mechanisms were used to further the primary fraud, mail and wire fraud convictions require that the government establish fraudulent intent. Many cases come down to which side did a better job on that point in the courtroom.
Barring a confession by the accused, or an unusually clear set of circumstances that is consistent only with fraudulent intent, both the prosecution and the defense are forced to rely on inferences from various facts in the case to establish or refute intent. It would be hard to overstate the importance of having an experienced Tampa mail and wire fraud attorney to undertake that job. Prosecutors may rely on such flimsy evidence of fraudulent intent as:
- Testimony of victims that they were misled by the accused
- Letters and other communications from victims to the accused, especially if the accused continued the conduct after receiving the letters
An experienced Tampa criminal attorney knows that while this evidence may seem to show intent to some degree, it also raises questions about the motives and credibility of the people claiming to be victims, and can often be explained by the accused’s knowledge and mindset at the time of the claimed fraud.
Time is Important—Get Help Now
If you are accused of mail or wire fraud, or simply think that the authorities may be investigating you with an eye to charging you later, then now is absolutely the time to get experienced legal help. Your reputation and your freedom are in danger. Attorney William Hanlon has the experience you need, having spent 20 years defending Florida fraud cases in and around Tampa. Call Will today. The aggressive defense of your interests starts here.