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Wire Fraud

Defending Wire Fraud

What is a Wire Fraud?

Wire Fraud attorneysWire fraud is a federal offense defined in 18 U.S. Code Section 1343. If you are accused of this offense, you will be prosecuted in federal court and could be sent to federal prison. Federal crimes are generally more serious than state-level criminal offenses and can carry lengthy penalties as well as large fines. Wire fraud is no exception. You could face decades in prison if convicted of this offense, as well as other serious consequences.

Because of the life-altering penalties for wire fraud, you need to ensure you understand your rights and respond in a strategic way to all criminal charges.

Contact a wire fraud lawyer for advice as soon as you learn that you have been indicted by a grand jury or that you are under investigation for wire fraud by a federal agency.

Legal Definition of Wire Fraud

Wire fraud is defined by 18 U.S. Code Section 1343 as:

  • Devising, or intending to devise
  • A scheme or artifice to defraud or obtain money by false pretenses, misrepresentations, or false promises
  • That involves transmitting, or causing to be transmitted
  • Any “writings, signals, pictures or sounds” via wire
  • For the purposes of executing the scheme or artifice

Scheme has been defined broadly to include any attempt to mislead or to deprive someone of “honest services.”

International and Interstate Wire Fraud

In order for the federal government to bring charges for wire fraud, an interstate transmission or international transmission must have occurred. However, a defendant does not have to either know or foresee that the electronic transaction will occur across state lines. In United States. v. Bryant, a defendant sent to telegrams from Kansas City to Bridgetown, both of which were in Missouri. However, the telegrams were routed through Middletown Virginia. Although the defendant was not aware that the communication had crossed state lines, a the Eighth Circuit ruled that he could still be convicted of interstate wire fraud.

Many wire fraud schemes are not only interstate, but are international. Because international wire fraud affects foreign commerce, the federal government can prosecute if money is wired to or from overseas accounts or if any communications related to a scheme take place using international wires. 18 U.S.C. Section 10 defines foreign commerce broadly to include any “commerce with a foreign country.” In United States. v Goldberg, the Third Circuit considered whether wire transfers between two countries from outside of the United States could lead to criminal prosecution within the U.S. for wire fraud, but ultimately did not have to address the issue because the defendant had made telephone calls from prison to a Canadian bank.

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Penalties for Wire Fraud: Fines and Sentencing

18 U.S. Code Section 1343 both defines the offense of wire fraud and establishes potential penalties. Under this Code Section, a conviction for wire fraud can result in up to 20 years incarceration. However, if the violation was in conjunction with a major national emergency or if it affected a financial institution, potential penalties could include up to 30 years of incarceration.

An individual convicted of wire fraud could also face a fine up to $250,000, while an organization could face a $500,000 fine. If the offense was committed in relation to a national disaster or impacting a financial institution, the potential fine rises to $1,000,000.

In sentencing a defendant for wire fraud, the judge may refer to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The guidelines set forth a uniform sentencing policy for conviction of federal felony or Class A misdemeanor offenses. While once mandatory, the guidelines are now optional after the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Booker that mandatory sentencing rules violated the Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury.

The guidelines set a base level for each offense, then add or subtract offense levels depending upon aggravating or mitigating circumstances. Section 2B1.1 generally applies to wire fraud offenses unless corruption of public officials was involved.   According to this section, offense levels are added (and more serious penalties imposed) for wire fraud offenses involving 10 or more victims, or involving more than $5,000 in losses. The offense level and the defendant’s criminal record ultimately determine the recommended sentence based on the guidelines, although a judge is free to deviate.

Other Penalties

Incarceration is one of many potential penalties for wire fraud. Other possible penalties that could be imposed in sentencing include:

  • Restitution: You may be required to make restitution to those who were directly and indirectly harmed by a wire fraud offense you were convicted of. This can mean returning any money or property acquired as a result of the wire fraud offense.
  • Civil or criminal forfeiture: The United States government may seize the proceeds of any criminal activities. Civil forfeiture is controversial because the property self is treated as the defendant and property can be seized even if you are not convicted of a criminal offense.
  • Supervised release: Supervised release (parole) is recommended by the Sentencing Guidelines for all federal felony offenses. Between three and five years of supervised release is generally recommended after a conviction for wire fraud. Supervised release begins after a term of imprisonment.

It is common to be charged with other crimes in addition to federal wire fraud. You can be charged with an underlying offense, such as securities fraud, health care fraud, or making false claims. Wire fraud is also a predicate offense for RICO charges.

Talk to a Wire Fraud Lawyer

A wire fraud lawyer can help you to try to plea bargain to reduce your charges, or can assist you in defending yourself to try to avoid conviction.

Contact a wire fraud attorney at Bukh Law Firm as soon as possible if you are charged with using wire, radio, or television communications as part of a scheme to defraud.

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