Wire fraud involves the use of any form of electronic communication to defraud another party. It is often used by major criminal operations in the commission of offenses such as money laundering. As such, any form of wire fraud is likely to show up on the radar of federal investigators.
For example, two Florida businessmen were recently charged with foreign bribery, wire fraud, and money laundering for their alleged scheme to secure business advantages in the state-owned Venezuelan energy company Petroleos de Venezual S.A.
Because the men bribed officials in Houston, where the scheme was initially discovered, the case will be prosecuted in Texas federal courts. This is a case in point for the complexity of many wire fraud cases.
However, not all wire fraud cases involve large-scale international criminal operations. In fact, many individuals are charged with wire fraud just because electronic communications were used to engage in the fraud.
What are you up against when you’re charged with wire fraud?
Below we’ve provided a breakdown of the elements of wire fraud, separate charges you may face with wire fraud, and wire fraud penalties.
Elements of Wire Fraud
In order to convict someone of wire fraud, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- The defendant was involved in a scheme to defraud another party, such as by obtaining money through false pretenses
- The defendant acted knowingly and with the intent to defraud
- The defendant made false representations that were material to the fraud, and
- The defendant made these representations by wire, radio, or television communications in interstate or international commerce
A defendant can be found guilty of wire fraud even if he or she never defrauded anyone, and even if he or she did not personally send fraudulent communications. The prosecution must only prove that the defendant intended to defraud someone, or acted with the knowledge that electronic communications were used to commit the scheme.
Separate and Additional Offenses
Every act of wire fraud constitutes a separate offense. For example, if the defendant made 10 phone calls to victims of a scheme to defraud, each phone call would be considered a separate act of wire fraud.
Wire fraud is often associated with additional criminal offenses such as money laundering, securities fraud, and embezzlement. Federal prosecutors often use wire fraud as a “catch-all” offense that can be broadly applied, especially in cases where they are unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a more serious offense took place.
A wire fraud charge also allows federal agencies to investigate electronic communications more closely, often uncovering evidence sufficient the defendant with additional offenses.
Importantly, any criminal offenses associated with the act of wire fraud will be charged and penalized separately if the prosecution has sufficient evidence to prove the defendant’s guilt.
Wire Fraud Penalties
Anyone convicted of wire fraud faces serious criminal penalties. A single act of wire fraud can result in up to 20 years in prison. Moreover, if the wire fraud involved a financial institution or is connected to a presidentially declared disaster or emergency, it is punishable by up to 30 years of imprisonment. Federal prison sentences are ineligible for parole, meaning the sentence imposed is the sentence that will be served.
Clearly, being charged with wire fraud is a very serious situation. If you are facing wire fraud charges, or are under investigation, you need to start building a strong defense as soon as possible.