Wire fraud is a grave federal crime with significant penalties, including substantial imprisonment and fines. Of all federal “white collar” crimes, wire fraud is the most commonly charged and often the most complex. If you have been charged with wire fraud or believe you are under investigation for wire fraud, you need an experienced defense attorney to protect your rights and fight on your behalf.
At the Rossen Law Firm, our experienced and dedicated federal wire fraud defense lawyers are prepared to use their in-depth understanding of federal wire fraud law and their vast courtroom experience to provide you with the best defense in South Florida, throughout the State of Florida, and the country.
Every federal wire fraud case is unique, and we approach each with an individualized strategy. First and foremost, we will listen to your side of the events, rather than relying on the government’s story, and understand the specifics of your case. We will review all the evidence, scrutinize the federal prosecution’s case for any weaknesses, and seek to uncover any violations of your rights that may have occurred during the investigation or arrest.
Possible defenses include a lack of intent to defraud, good faith, or even arguing that the government has not met its high burden of proof. Our attorneys are prepared to leverage their experience and knowledge to advocate for your best interests in and out of the courtroom.
UNDERSTANDING FEDERAL WIRE FRAUD
Under U.S. federal law, wire fraud is a financial crime involving using telecommunications or information technology to carry out fraudulent activity. The wire fraud statute is in Title 18, Section 1343 of the U.S. Code.
The essential elements of wire fraud, as defined by the United States federal law, are as follows:
- The defendant voluntarily and intentionally devised or participated in a scheme to defraud another out of money;
- The defendant did so with the intent to defraud;
- It was reasonably foreseeable that interstate wire communications would be used; and
- Interstate wire communications were used.
The federal government comprehensively views its jurisdiction in wire fraud cases. It can prosecute any case involving interstate or international communications or where the alleged fraud affects interstate or foreign commerce. The government regularly uses the wire fraud statute to bring many different forms of alleged criminal conduct within the realm of federal prosecution for wire fraud. A few common examples are Internet investment scams, healthcare schemes, fraudulent telemarketing, fraudulent professional licensing schemes, and many other marketing or solicitation schemes involving the Internet, TV, or radio.
Additionally, the federal government uses wire fraud charges as a tool for the federal authorities to expand their power, enabling them to bring charges for crimes that might typically fall under state jurisdiction alone if they can connect these crimes to instances of wire fraud. The government can prosecute any fraud case involving interstate or international communications or where the alleged fraud affects interstate or foreign commerce.
PENALTIES FOR WIRE FRAUD
The consequences for a federal wire fraud conviction are severe. If found guilty, you may face:
- Up to 20 years in federal prison
- Fines up to $250,000 for individuals and up to $500,000 for organizations
- Restitution to the victims
- Asset forfeiture
In certain cases, such as those involving a financial institution, commonly known as Bank Fraud, or in connection with a disaster or emergency, the penalties may be even greater, including:
- Up to thirty (30) years in federal prison
- Up to $1,000,000 in fines
In addition to the maximum penalties under the wire fraud statute, it is also vital that you hire an attorney who understands the intricacies of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and how they are applied to wire fraud.
FEDERAL SENTENCING GUIDELINES FOR WIRE FRAUD
The United States Sentencing Guidelines, produced by the United States Sentencing Commission, provide a comprehensive set of rules for federal judges to use when determining a sentence for individuals convicted of federal crimes, including wire fraud. They’re intended to promote consistency in sentencing across all federal courts.
The guidelines operate on a points system known as “levels.” Each crime has a base offense level, and certain factors about the crime or the defendant can cause this level to increase or decrease. The United States Sentencing Commission determines federal sentencing guidelines for wire fraud. The sentencing guidelines for wire fraud are written under Section 2B1.1 of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual, which addresses criminal conduct generally related to fraud and theft.
The guidelines base sentences for wire fraud offenses on a system of offense levels, which factor in the monetary value of the fraud, the number of victims, whether the offense involved sophisticated means, and whether the defendant used a position of trust to facilitate or conceal the offense, among other things. For instance, wire fraud generally has a base offense level of 7. However, this level may be adjusted depending on various factors, such as:
- Loss Amount: The greater the financial loss involved in the crime, the higher the offense level and the greater the exposure to increased prison time. The guidelines provide a table that assigns specific level increases for different loss amounts.
- Number of Victims: If the scheme to defraud affected many victims, the offense level may be increased.
- Role in the Offense: A defendant who played a leadership or organizing role in the crime may receive an increased offense level, while a minor participant may receive a decrease.
- Sophistication of the Scheme: If the fraud scheme is particularly complex or sophisticated, the offense level may be increased.
The adjusted offense level, combined with the defendant’s criminal history, is used to determine the guideline range for sentencing. This range provides the minimum and maximum number of months in prison that a judge should consider when imposing a sentence. However, it’s important to note that the sentencing guidelines are advisory, not mandatory. Therefore, while judges must consider the guidelines, they can impose a sentence outside them if they believe the case’s specific circumstances warrant it.
It should be noted that these are guidelines, and the exact sentence can vary significantly depending on several factors, including the specifics of the case, whether the defendant has accepted responsibility, the defendant’s prior criminal history, and other factors considered by the court. Judges have the discretion to impose a sentence above or below the guideline range if they find “there exists an aggravating or mitigating circumstance of a kind, or to a degree, not adequately taken into consideration by the Sentencing Commission in formulating the guidelines.”
The knowledgeable and experienced federal defense attorneys at the Rossen Law Firm routinely make successful arguments to minimize the level enhancements or argue for a downward departure or variance from the guideline range for mail fraud, which can significantly affect the ultimate sentence our client may receive. The attorneys at the Rossen Law Firm have the legal expertise and experience in wire fraud defense to help you navigate the potential penalties for wire fraud and how the potential penalties may apply to your specific case.
HOW DOES THE GOVERNMENT PROVE WIRE FRAUD?
Federal prosecutors must prove each of the elements of the crime of wire fraud beyond any and all reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction. The experienced federal defense attorneys at the Rossen Law Firm regularly challenge the government’s ability to prove all elements of wire fraud. These elements are as follows:
- Scheme to Defraud: This refers to a plan or course of action intended to deceive someone to obtain money, property, or services. To prove this, the government typically introduces evidence to show the existence of such a plan, which can include emails, texts, recorded phone calls, witness testimony, etc.
Importantly, it is the scheme to defraud and not actual fraud that the government must prove. The alleged victim’s mind state is irrelevant, such as whether they are very trusting or gullible. Nor does the scheme need to succeed – no actual loss to a victim is required to prove this element of wire fraud. To sustain a conviction, the government must prove the existence of a scheme, but they do not have to prove all details or all instances of allegedly criminal conduct.
Further, the government must prove that the accused knowingly and willingly participated in the scheme, but not that he or she performed every key act themself, which is commonly the case in a Conspiracy to commit wire fraud prosecution.
- Intent to Defraud: The defendant must have acted with the intent to defraud, i.e., to deceive or cheat. It is not enough that the defendant’s actions resulted in defrauding someone; they must have intended for that to happen. Proving intent can be challenging because it involves showing what a person thought when they acted.
However, the government can argue that intent can be inferred from the circumstances, such as a person’s actions, statements, and the effects of their conduct. The requisite intent under the federal wire fraud statute may be inferred from the totality of the circumstances and need not be proven by direct evidence. For example, “impression testimony,” or testimony of alleged victims as to how defendants had misled them, is admissible to show an intent to defraud.
The government can also argue that fraudulent intent is shown if a representation is made with reckless indifference to its truth or falsity.
- Use of Interstate Wire Communications: The fraudulent scheme must involve the use of wire, radio, or television communications in interstate or foreign commerce. This can include not just telephone calls and faxes but also emails, internet communications, and even ATM transactions, as long as they cross state lines or national boundaries. The evidence for this can come from phone records, email server logs, or other technological records. Moreover, it is unnecessary to show that the defendant directly participated in the transmission, where it is established that the defendant caused the transmission and that such use was the foreseeable result of his acts.
Note: In simple terms, the legality of the “wire” itself is inconsequential in a wire fraud case. Moreover, the defendant doesn’t need to be the one who sends the wire. The scope of it is extensive and inclusive. The only requirement is that the wire communication is connected to the crime.
- The use of the wires was to execute the scheme: The government must prove that the defendant used, or caused to be used, the wires to carry out the fraudulent scheme. The wire communication has to be a part of, and not incidental to, the scheme to defraud. The government’s evidence must demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the electronic communication methods would be crucial or necessary for the scheme to be accomplished.
If the federal prosecutor cannot provide each of the four elements beyond a reasonable doubt, they cannot succeed. The elements of wire fraud under Section 1343 directly parallel those of the mail fraud statute but require the use of an interstate telephone call or electronic communication made in furtherance of the scheme.
For instance, a person in Florida who sends an email with misleading information to someone in New York, aiming to trick them into giving money, might be investigated and potentially charged with wire fraud. They intentionally participated in a fraud plan (the deceptive email), had a motive to cheat (acquire money), exploited interstate electronic communication (the email sent from FL to NY), and used this communication to accomplish the fraud (persuade the recipient to part with their money).
Nonetheless, it’s crucial to remember that this is a grave accusation requiring robust, meticulous proof to confirm beyond a reasonable doubt. If the defendant’s actions could have a credible, lawful interpretation, or if there’s uncertainty about their intent to defraud or the relevance of the electronic communication to the fraudulent plan, then it might not be appropriate to convict them of wire fraud. The experienced wire fraud attorneys at the Rossen Law Firm are prepared to vigorously and creatively defend against the government’s ability to prove all elements of a wire fraud charge against our clients.
DEFENDING WIRE FRAUD ACCUSATIONS
Federal wire fraud cases can be complex, and the defenses used by attorneys often hinge on the specific details of each case. Although it is always the government’s burden to prove the charges and the government’s burden alone, the highly skilled federal defense attorneys at the Rossen Law Firm may choose to present evidence and certain defenses in your case. Some common defenses include:
- Lack of Intent to Defraud: One of the critical elements the prosecution must prove in a wire fraud case is that the defendant intended to defraud someone. The defendant knowingly and willfully participated in a scheme or artifice to defraud with the intent to deceive or cheat, usually to get money or property from the victim. If the government cannot prove that the accused did not have the requisite intent to defraud, the charges cannot hold.
If a defendant can show that they did not intend to defraud anyone, this can be very successful in defending against a wire fraud charge. This is often closely related to the good faith defense, where the defendant argues that they genuinely believed in the truth of their statements or the legality of their actions and therefore did not have the intent to defraud.
However, demonstrating a lack of intent can be challenging, as it requires showing what was in a person’s mind at a certain point in the past. Evidence that might support a lack of intent defense could include communication records, witness testimony, and other evidence showing the defendant did not know they were making false representations or did not know that their actions were likely to result in harm. Also, it’s important to remember that being mistaken or even negligent about the truth is not the same as intending to defraud. A person might be wrong or careless about specific facts without necessarily intending to deceive anyone.
As with all legal defenses, the specifics can be complex and depend heavily on the details of the individual case. It’s always advisable to consult with a qualified attorney when dealing with severe charges like wire fraud.
- Good Faith: In federal wire fraud, the “good faith” defense is a legal argument in which the defendant claims they did not intend to defraud anyone. Intent to defraud is one of the key elements that must be proven in a wire fraud case. This means the defendant intended to deceive or cheat, usually for personal financial gain. If a defendant can prove that they acted in good faith—that is, they genuinely believed in the truth of their statements or promises and had no intent to defraud—they may avoid a wire fraud conviction.
The good faith defense says, “I may have been mistaken, I may have been negligent, but I did not deliberately set out to deceive anyone.” This can be a powerful defense because it directly counters one of the required elements of wire fraud: intent. However, demonstrating good faith can be challenging. It is often not enough to say you acted in good faith; you must provide evidence supporting this claim. Evidence might include documentation, communication records, witness testimony, or any other information that shows you did not intend to deceive or cheat anyone.
It’s important to note that this defense doesn’t apply if the defendant consciously avoided the truth. Ignorance due to intentional avoidance of the truth doesn’t constitute good faith. Legal defenses like the good faith defense can be complex, so working with an experienced attorney is essential if you’re facing wire fraud charges.
- Mistake or Misunderstanding: In some cases, the defense may be able to argue that the accused misunderstood the facts or was mistaken about the legitimacy of the actions in question. In the context of a federal wire fraud charge, the “mistake” or “misunderstanding” defense is a legal strategy where the defendant argues that they did not intentionally engage in a scheme to defraud but instead were operating under a mistaken understanding of the facts or circumstances.
To be found guilty of wire fraud, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to defraud someone. They intentionally participated in a deceptive scheme to cause harm, typically for their own gain. The “mistake” defense seeks to counter this element of intent. Suppose a defendant can demonstrate they were operating under a false assumption or misunderstood the situation. In that case, they may be able to argue they lacked the intent necessary for a wire fraud conviction.
For example, a defendant might argue they made representations they believed to be accurate at the time but later turned out to be false. Or they might have misunderstood the transaction’s legality or a critical fact that unknowingly caused them to make a false statement. However, this defense can be challenging to establish. It generally requires demonstrating that the defendant was mistaken or misunderstood the situation and that their mistake was reasonable under the circumstances. Also, it’s important to note that this defense wouldn’t apply if the defendant were willfully ignorant, meaning they deliberately avoided learning the truth. This could still be considered intent to defraud.
- Lack of “Material” Misrepresentation: A “material misrepresentation” under the wire fraud statute refers to a substantial false statement, representation, or omission of information that is intended to deceive or defraud someone and is transmitted via wire communication (such as phone calls, emails, or electronic messages). The misrepresentation is considered “material” when it has the potential to influence the decisions or actions of the recipient in a significant way. In the context of wire fraud, a material misrepresentation is a crucial element that must be present for an act to be classified as wire fraud. A skilled defense attorney may argue that the misrepresentation was not “material.”
- “Puffery”: “Puffery” is a term used in advertising and sales to refer to exaggerations or overstatements that are not meant to be taken seriously or seen as factual. In other words, it’s a sort of sales talk that contains subjective rather than objective representations. Examples might include phrases like “the best in the world” or “unbeatable service.” These are subjective claims that can’t be definitively proven or disproven. In the context of federal wire fraud, a defendant might argue that their statements were puffery, not fraudulent misrepresentations. They might argue that their statements were so exaggerated or vague that no reasonable person would rely on them to decide. For this defense to be successful, a skilled defense attorney would need to show that the alleged fraudulent statements fall into the category of puffery and not factual misrepresentations.
- Insufficient Evidence: The prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a high burden of proof. The defense can argue that the evidence presented is insufficient to meet this threshold.
- Violation of Constitutional Rights: If law enforcement violated the accused’s rights during the investigation or arrest, evidence obtained during those violations may be suppressed. For example, if there was an illegal search or seizure, the fruits of that search or seizure may be excluded from the case.
- Challenging the Interstate or International Element: Federal jurisdiction relies on the communication or effects of the fraud crossing state or international lines. If this can be contested successfully, it may derail the federal charge.
- Challenging the “Property” Element: The federal wire fraud statute criminalizes narrowly defined categories of conduct. The wire fraud statute is limited in scope to protecting property rights. Traditional property rights include items such as money or land. Still, Congress and the Supreme Court have expanded the definitions of what kind of “property rights” fall within the wire fraud statute. However, depending on the facts of your case, a skilled and experienced wire fraud attorney from the Rossen Law Firm may be able to challenge the government’s ability to prove that the purpose of the alleged scheme was to obtain “property” under the wire fraud statute.
- Entrapment: If the defense can show that government agents induced the defendant to commit the crime and that the defendant was not predisposed to commit such a crime, it may be a valid defense. However, this is often difficult to prove and requires particular circumstances.
- Statute of Limitations: Federal wire fraud cases must be prosecuted within five years of the offense. If the defense can show that the prosecution is outside of this timeframe, it can be a complete defense.
CHOOSE THE ROSSEN LAW FIRM TO DEFEND YOUR WIRE FRAUD CASE
Wire fraud is a severe federal crime, despite being referred to as a financial or “white collar” crime. With the devastating potential consequences of committing wire fraud for our clients and their loved ones, finding a wire fraud attorney with the caliber to provide exceptional defense is crucial.
The success of your defense often depends on the specifics of the case and the skill of the defense attorney. Suppose you’re facing federal wire fraud charges. In that case, it’s crucial to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced wire fraud federal criminal defense attorney to understand the best defense strategy for your unique circumstances.
The attorneys at Rossen Law Firm have the expertise and experience to handle wire fraud cases effectively in South Florida and nationwide. By offering unique, fresh, and aggressive defense tactics, our lawyers are not afraid to take your case to court. The attorneys understand the complex and nuanced nature of wire fraud, its charges, penalties, and defense strategies, allowing our clients to navigate the legal system with supreme confidence.
Choosing the right defense attorney is critical when facing a charge as serious as federal wire fraud. Our team offers:
- Experience: Our attorneys have extensive experience defending clients against federal wire fraud charges and understand the complex federal laws and procedures involved in these cases.
- Aggressive, Creative, and Groundbreaking Advocacy: We fiercely defend our client’s rights. Using cutting-edge techniques and tools, we will challenge every piece of evidence against you.
- Personalized Service: We provide personalized, attentive service to our clients. You are more than just a case number to us; we understand the stress and uncertainty that come with a federal wire fraud charge, and we are here to support you every step of the way.
- Proven Results: Our track record speaks for itself. We have defended numerous clients accused of federal wire fraud, helping them avoid conviction or secure lesser charges.
If facing a federal wire fraud charge, don’t leave your future to chance. Contact the Rossen Law Firm today to schedule a free strategy session and learn how we can help you.