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Mail and Wire Fraud

NCJ Number
American Criminal Law Review Volume: 49 Issue: 2 Dated: Spring 2012 Pages: 985-1010
Amy Zelcer
Date Published
26 pages
This article presents an overview of the prosecution of offenses under the Federal mail and wire fraud statutes.
Mail and wire fraud law has evolved through both congressional action and court decisions. Currently, to be convicted of a mail or wire fraud offense, the Government must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant perpetrated a scheme to defraud that includes a material deception; with the intent to defraud; while using the mails, private commercial carriers, and/or wires in furtherance of the scheme; and that did result or would have resulted in the loss of money or property or the deprivation of honest services. The article discusses in detail these elements of a mail or wire fraud offense. A defendant charged under mail and wire fraud statutes can mount a legal defense that argues the defendant had a "good faith" belief that allegedly fraudulent representations were believed to be true. If a defendant uses such a defense and there is sufficient evidence to support it, he/she is entitled to, and may request, a jury instruction directly on the issue. In such cases, however, the Government may be permitted to introduce evidence of "other acts" in rebuttal. Also, the statute of limitations may be used as a defense; for such offenses, 5 years is usually the limitation. If the scheme affects a financial institution, however, the statute of limitations is 10 years. The statute of limitations runs from the last overt act in furtherance of the fraudulent scheme. Regarding sentencing, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines recommend that a defendant convicted of mail or wire fraud not affecting a financial institution be subject to a fine, a prison term of up to 20 years, or both. Violations may result in civil or criminal forfeiture. 180 notes