U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Mail Fraud and Wire Fraud

NCJ Number
American Criminal Law Review Volume: 18 Issue: 2 Dated: (Fall 1980) Pages: 197-205
V Genecin
Date Published
9 pages
This discussion of the Federal statute against mail and wire fraud covers elements of the crime, issues raised by the enormous flexibility of the statute, and penalties and defenses.
Because the term, 'scheme to defraud,' is broadly defined, mail and wire fraud statutes. forbidding the use of mails or interstate electronics communication for schemes of fraud, enable the government to prosecute a very broad range of activities. In the recent past, this has included sellers of worthless distributorships, groups of attorneys and physicians who conspire to inflate medical expenses of accident victims, and holders of high office who accept bribes or extort kickbacks. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Congress may forbid any mailing that furthers a scheme contrary to public policy, regardless of whether the Congress may forbid the scheme itself. Moreover, the measure of fraud is nontechnical, involving general moral standards. Although the Government must prove specific intent, showing that the scheme was calculated, it need not provide direct evidence or witnesses who have suffered losses. Indeed, schemes need not even be intended to deprive victims of property. In addition, defendants need not use the wires or the mails directly. Instead, any use by innocent third parties in furtherance of the scheme, provided that use could have been reasonably foreseen, constitutes fraudulent use. Nevertheless, the strongest defense against mail fraud charges lies in showing that the government has not shown sufficient connection between the use of mails or the wires, and the scheme. Moreover, in general, mailings used to settle accounts between third parties and victims may not be used to support allegations of mail fraud. The statutory structure enables prosecutors to obtain multiple count indictments of mail fraud, bringing penalties of $1,000 or 5 years in jail upon conviction. However, the penalties for two or more counts of mail fraud involving racketeering can involve a 20-year prison sentence or a fine of $25,000. Footnotes are included.


No download available