Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343
Under 18 USC 1343, it is illegal for an individual to use, or cause the use of, the United States Postal Service during the course of a scheme to take money from another by fraud or false pretenses. Private commercial interstate mail carriers such as UPS or FedEx also fall under the confines of this statute.
Mail fraud is using the mail to defraud another person, business, financial institution or governmental agency of money or property. The belief that the lie or fraud itself must involve the mail is a common misconception. All that must be proven is that the mail was used or caused to be used during the course of the fraud. Any innocent mailing can be brought under the law’s jurisdiction. Behavior that may seem relatively harmless become conduct that could subject an individual to a serious federal crime if it involves the mail in a criminal fraud or scheme. A scheme to defraud is a plan to steal money from another person or entity by lying to them.
To convict an individual of mail fraud, the Assistant United States Attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt three elements:
- The defendant must have devised a scheme or artifice to defraud another;
- The defendant must have intended to defraud another;
- The defendant had to use, or cause another to use the mail during the course of the scheme to defraud.
For behavior to be considered fraudulent, any misrepresentation must be related to the scheme. It must either help the defendant perpetrate the crime or convince a purported victim to believe the defendant.
The mail fraud state is very broad and can be used in many different cases brought by federal prosecutors. The mailing does not have to be illegal, it only has to be related to the scheme to defraud another. A case may begin with the United State Postal Inspection Service or by any other federal law enforcement agency such as the FBI or IRS. If these agencies believe that an individual has been participating in behavior that constitutes fraud these agencies may use the mail fraud statute to investigate and charge the suspected individual.
Mail fraud is one of the most easily violated offenses found in federal criminal law and the penalties for mail fraud are some of the harshest for a non-violent crime. If convicted of mail fraud, a defendant may receive a sentence of 20 years in prison. Additionally, the defendant may be made to pay a fine of $250,000 and full restitution to those wronged by his or her behavior. It the victim of the wire fraud is a financial institution, a judge may increase the prison sentence, fines, or both. The prison sentence may be increased from 20 to 30 years and the fines may be increased from $250,000 to $1,000,000.
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Russ Kofman is a founding partner in Lebedin Kofman LLP. He has extensive litigation experience defending clients accused of felonies, misdemeanors and DWI/ DUI crimes.