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Essentially, fraud cases involve deception for material gain. Wire fraud is very specific, in that it involves using telecommunications equipment to defraud another person or entity. Nearly every wire fraud case is prosecuted as a federal crime, as there is nearly always at least one element of the case that crosses state lines.
Wire fraud does not have to cause financial injury. Some cases revolve around loss of service, or a state of emergency or disaster. This is one of the most common white collar charges and carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.
What Constitutes Wire Fraud?
Wire fraud statutes only require a "scheme to defraud;" they do not require any victim to lose real money. This means that simply attempting to defraud a person or entity may lead to wire fraud charges, as well as a conviction.
This also applies to a person or entity engaged in a scheme to deny honest services to another. This means that a public officer whose duties and obligations demand he or she provide honest services to the public, but who fails to do so, may face wire fraud charges if that officer used interstate communications. Common examples of this are bribery and kickback schemes perpetrated by officials tp\o cheat the public out of the services that official was responsible for providing.
What are Wire Fraud Charges?
Federal law recognizes three main categories of wire fraud, categorized by the type of fraudulent activity, the social impact of the fraud, and the type of institution impacted by the fraud.
General wire fraud uses radio, television, or wire transmissions to cross state lines, or in foreign commerce, presenting no aggravating factors. The two aggravating factors focus on disaster relief and financial institutions.
The Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act forbids fraud in connection with a disaster or emergency event, focusing on the responsibility of the federal government's response in the event of emergencies and natural disasters.
Wire fraud that targets or specifically impacts financial institutions is another aggravating factor that extends the charge beyond general wire fraud.
What are Federal Penalties for Wire Fraud?
Most federal charges are felonies, though certain mitigating factors may drop the charge to a misdemeanor. A felony conviction carries a minimum sentence of 1 year, whereas a misdemeanor conviction carries a maximum sentence of 1 year.
Penalties for wire fraud vary dramatically depending on a variety of factors, including prior criminal history and the amount and extent of the fraudulent scheme. Typically, a conviction results in prison, probation, and fines. You may also be ordered to make restitution.
Prison sentences vary widely, depending upon the charges. You may receive no prison sentence, or you may receive up to 30 years per violation, if the prosecutor decides to charge each fraudulent act separately. Prior criminal history plays a large role in determining sentencing.
Probation may be levied in lieu of or in addition to a prison sentence. Federal probation requires regular meetings with a court or probation officer. The terms of probation may also include a variety of other conditions, including drug screenings, remaining crime-free, not associating with convicted felons, and maintaining employment. Failure to meet the obligations of probation may result in completion of your sentence in jail, time added to your probation sentence, or both.
Fraud convictions typically include hefty fines, especially in cases where a fine is levied for each instance of wire fraud. The maximum fine, per violation, is $250,000. Fraudulent schemes with far-reaching impact and multiple violations may result in millions of dollars in fines.
Finally, fraud convictions typically require restitution be made to each victim as compensation for losses. Restitution is in addition to, not in lieu of, any fines ordered by the court. Typically, payment of fines and restitution is a condition of probation.
One of the reasons that wire fraud charges are so common is that they become a catch-all for a variety of federal crimes for which the prosecution feels it may lack evidence to secure a conviction. In other words, if the prosecution thinks they don't have the evidence to make one charge stick, but it has evidence of fraud using interstate communications, it includes a charge for wire fraud.
In addition, every act of wire fraud is a separate offense. This means that, if you sent an email to 10 people as part of a fraudulent scheme, you face charges for 10 separate acts of wire fraud.
Schedule a Free Consultation
If you face wire fraud charges, schedule a free consultation with a criminal defense attorney to discuss your case and determine your next steps.