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Elements of Wire Fraud

White collar crimes involve schemes or misrepresentations to ultimately and illegally obtain money or property and involve no physical violence, so in many instances the sanctions are lighter than for violent crimes. However, there are some types of white collar crimes that carry heavy penalties in terms of prison time and fines. One of these is wire fraud, which is a federal crime from the get go.

To distinguish wire fraud from other types of fraud, the US Code stipulates that the crime was perpetrated using some type of communication over a wire such as the telephone, or more currently relevant, by electronic means. As such, e-mail scams such as the promise of a lot of money in return for a small deposit or personal information are considered wire fraud.

Wire fraud is quite common, occurring in a variety of scenarios. In Houston, three cases of wire fraud were brought against a store owner, two University professors, and two building contractors. The store owner pleaded guilty to 11 counts of wire fraud and faces up to 30 years in prison plus a possible $1 million per count in restitution. A competent Dallas criminal defense lawyer should be able to argue for a lighter sentence considering that the store owner only got a total of $350,000 in the scheme.

The two essential elements of a crime which the prosecution must prove exists to bring a case of wire fraud is provided under the US Code (18 U.S.C. § 1343). These are:

  • That the defendant knowingly and intentionally devised or participated in a scheme designed to defraud another person or entity of money
  • That the defendant used wire or electronic communications in part or in whole to perpetrate the fraud

There are some later additions to the mail and wire fraud statute, most particularly honest services fraud, which does not require any communications over wire or the post office. In the case of the building contractors mentioned earlier, for example, the charge of wire fraud were brought in because they bribed a public official to favor them in awarding city contracts for developing or maintaining buildings.

It can be easy to unknowingly participate in a fraudulent scheme, and if it involves any form or electronic communication, it becomes a federal crime. If charged with wire fraud, lose no time in retaining a qualified criminal defense lawyer to fight for your rights and freedom.