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Don't underestimate the gravity of wire fraud charges - II

Last time, our blog began discussing how federal prosecutors frequently pursue wire fraud charges when they aren't confident in their odds of securing a conviction in a case alleging a more serious white collar crime owing to the fact that they're easier to prove and severely punished. In other words, the Department of Justice views it as a sort of catchall crime.

We'll continue our examination of wire fraud in today's post, exploring the penalties for a conviction and the concept of honest services fraud.

To recap, the elements of wire fraud include:

  • The defendant concocted or participated in a scheme to defraud another out of money, property or anything else of value.
  • The defendant did so voluntarily and intentionally.
  • The defendant used interstate wire communications as part of the scheme to defraud.

How much money or property must be taken in order for wire fraud charges to be brought?

It may come as a surprise to learn that it isn't necessary for anyone to actually be deprived of anything of value -- money, property, etc. -- in order for a defendant to be convicted of wire fraud. Indeed, the operative phrase in the statute is "scheme to defraud," meaning that all prosecutors must demonstrate is that a defendant attempted to take the money or property.

What is honest services fraud?

Federal law dictates that the term scheme to defraud also includes "a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services." This provision is generally used against those with fiduciary duties or, more commonly, public officials tasked with providing honest (i.e., ethical) services to others.

While this is a fairly complex subset of wire fraud, it may be helpful to envision government officials implicated in machinations relating to bribery or kickbacks. Here, these officials won't be accused of depriving the public of money, but rather the services they otherwise swore to provide the public upon taking office.

What are the penalties for wire fraud?

The penalties for a wire fraud conviction are serious, with defendants facing steep fines and up to 20 years in federal prison. Indeed, these fines increase and the possible prison term jumps to 30 years if the underlying offense affects a financial institution or is associated with a "presidentially declared major disaster or emergency."

It's also important to note that every act of wire fraud is treated as a separate offense, such that if a defendant allegedly sent someone five emails in conjunction with a scheme, this would constitute five separate instances of wire fraud.

Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible to ensure the protection of your rights if you are under investigation for wire fraud or any other type of white collar crime, as the stakes are simply too high.

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Darryl A. Goldberg
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