A number of La Joya, Texas officials have been under law enforcement’s microscope recently, and as a result, several public officials in the town have all been implicated in possible wrongdoing..
The city’s primary administrator, the school superintendent, a city contractor, the former mayor, and two housing directors, to name a few, have been connected to various illegal contracts, embezzlement, and wire fraud crimes all discovered within a few months of each other.
Most recently, the second housing director was charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Housing Director Seemed Suspect from the Beginning
From the moment of hire, this director was considered suspicious by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, prompting the federal agency not pay her. This did not deter the new director, however.
During her short tenure as director, she:
- Illegally withdrew more than $10,000 in cash from the housing authority
- Collected more than $10,000 in consulting fees under suspicious circumstances
- Potentially engaged in bribery
While that seems like a multitude of separate crimes, the current charges wire fraud charge she faces encompasses most of those accusations.
So What Is Federal Wire Fraud, Then?
The crimes committed by the former La Joya housing director seem pretty broad. Receiving illegal funds, taking funds for her own use, and even potentially dealing in bribes – that’s a lot of different acts of wrongdoing. However, she’s only been charged with wire fraud.
How does that work?
In order for a wire fraud charge to stick, there are four specific conditions that must exist: intentional participation, intent to defraud someone, assumption of use and the actual use of wire communication.
Let’s take a closer look…
Wire Fraud Defined
Wire fraud is one of the broadest-scoped federal crimes. Any kind of scheme to defraud someone of funds that takes place through electronic communication is wire fraud. It’s very similar to mail fraud – a blanket charge to ensure that no unique scenario slips through the cracks.
Accidentally participating in a wire fraud scheme is not illegal. The perpetrator must knowingly either plan or participate in the wire fraud. For example, being tricked into transmitting information for the perpetrators is not illegal, but understanding and agreeing to the scheme is illegal.
Intent to Defraud
Wire fraud requires someone to be acting in bad faith, and intent is everything. The intention must be to defraud someone of their funds or illegally separate someone from their funds by deception. Merely selling something that doesn’t live up to the buyer’s expectations is not defrauding the customer.
Assumption and Use of Wire Communication
These two requirements are very similar. It is where the “wire” part of “wire fraud” comes into play. For fraud to move into the territory of wire fraud, there must be both:
- There must be a reasonable expectation that wired communications are involved
- The wire communication must actually be used to defraud someone
If the fraud was supposed to only take place in person, but the act occurred over the phone against expectations, it’s not ground for a wire fraud conviction.
If it was supposed to happen by wire, but never actually happened, then it remains conspiracy to commit wire fraud
Penalties for a Wire Fraud Conviction
Wire fraud is a federal felony, the severity of which depends on the scale of the crime. It is typically punishable by a 20-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.
When wire fraud is committed against a financial institution or pertains to a natural disaster, fines can increase to $1 million and jail time can reach 30 years.
Committing identity theft to aid wire fraud adds a mandatory minimum two-year term of imprisonment.
Since wire fraud accusation can result in decades in prison and leave you liable for hundreds of thousands in fines, finding experienced Texas legal counsel is paramount to your future. Fraud charges can ruin lives – don’t let yours be one of them.