If you or someone you know has been charged with wire fraud or are the target of an investigation, hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is a necessity and not a luxury. Being convicted of such a crime has serious long-lasting consequences, including incarceration and hefty fines.
But what exactly is federal wire fraud? This blog should help you find out what you need to know.
What is Federal Wire Fraud
So, what is federal wire fraud? You may have heard the term before, but what exactly is it? Wire fraud is a federal crime defined under 18 U.S.C. § 1343 that involves the use of electronic communications to defraud someone. The key element of wire fraud is the use of electronic communications to commit fraud.
Electronic communication includes phone calls, emails, text messages, and other forms of electronic communication. It even includes communications through various social media platforms, such as Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), and virtually any communication on the internet.
Specifically, 18 U.S.C. § 1343 states in relevant part:
Whoever, having devised or intending to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises, transmits or causes to be transmitted by means of wire, radio, or television communication in interstate or foreign commerce, any writings, signs, signals, pictures, or sounds for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.
As the statute shows, there are various acts (i.e., “elements”) to the crime. The government has the burden of proving each element of the crime. Thus, to obtain a conviction, the government must prove the following elements of the crime:
- A voluntary and intentional scheme or artifice to defraud (i.e., a scheme or plan to wrongfully gain money or something of value from someone);
- Intent to defraud (i.e., the false statements were made with the specific purpose to deceive);
- Materially false representations (i.e., false statements that someone would rely on were made);
- Loss of money, property or honest services; and
- Interstate wire communications were in fact used (i.e., actual usage of telephone lines, cellular phone signals, cable tv, radio and television).
It is important to note regarding the false statements, that it is not enough for the government simply to show that false statements were made. Such statements must also be shown to be material. In short, such false statements must be shown to be of a nature that they would cause a reasonable person to rely on such information.
Wire fraud is one of the most frequently prosecuted “white collar” crimes. The reason for this is because it is often necessary to use the means of wire transmissions to commit other crimes. As a result, it is often charged and prosecuted in conjunction with other crimes such as bank fraud, securities fraud, and insurance fraud.
The penalties for a conviction of wire fraud are significant. Indeed, the maximum penalty for wire fraud is 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Moreover, if the wire fraud involves a financial institution or a disaster relief program, the maximum penalty is increased to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million. Specifically, 18 U.S.C. § 1343 states in relevant part:
If the violation occurs in relation to, or involving any benefit authorized, transported, transmitted, transferred, disbursed, or paid in connection with, a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency (as those terms are defined in section 102 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5122)), or affects a financial institution, such person shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both.
The extent of the ultimate penalties imposed is determined by the federal sentencing guidelines, which takes into consideration several factors. Such factors include but are not limited to:
- The person’s criminal history (i.e., criminal record);
- The amount of monetary loss to the victim(s);
- The existence of mitigating circumstances (i.e., a fact that lessen culpability or reduces severity of sentence); and
- The existence of aggravating circumstances (i.e., a factor that increase culpability or severity of crime).
Examples of Wire Fraud Cases
Here are some examples of wire fraud cases:
- In April 2023, an Orange County, CA woman was sentenced to 5 years in prison for wire fraud after she embezzled over $3 million from her employers.
- In 2019, a Los Angeles, CA man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in a $147 million pyramid investment scheme that included wire fraud.
- In 2017, a New York restaurateur was sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison for a $1.5 million investment fraud scheme and tax evasion after pleading guilty to tax evasion and wire fraud.
These are just a few examples of how wire fraud cases are prosecuted. As the cases show, wire fraud can take many forms and can involve a wide range of criminal activity.
Have You Been Charged with Wire Fraud?
If you or someone you know has been arrested for or are the potential target of a wire fraud investigation in New York, call the Law Office of Kevin J. Deloatch, Esq. at (646) 792-2156 for a free consultation. The results of all prosecutions are determined by the facts and circumstances of your specific case and the skill and experience of your defense attorney. The Law Office of Kevin J. Deloatch, Esq. has an extensive criminal law practice including over 20 years of criminal defense experience and over 30 years on Wall Street.