Possibly. You can get charged with federal wire fraud if probable cause exists.
There must be evidence of the intent to defraud via interstate communications such as by making a telephone call or other electronic means. It is possible to fight federal wire fraud charges with a solid defensive strategy devised by an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
In This Article
A federal criminal defense attorney in Pennsylvania addresses the following questions that many people in your situation are asking:
- What Is Federal Wire Fraud?
- What Is a Recent Example of Federal Wire Fraud?
- What Is the Penalty for Federal Wire Fraud?
- What Is the Difference Between Wire and Mail Fraud?
- What Are Common Defenses to Wire Fraud Charges?
- What Else Should I Know About Potential Wire Fraud Charges?
Let’s start by looking at how federal laws define wire fraud.
What Is Federal Wire Fraud?
Federal wire fraud is when an individual intentionally uses an interstate communication device to deprive someone of property per 18 USC § 1343. Federal wire fraud includes phishing emails, telemarketing scams, and Ponzi schemes. There are three elements that prosecutors must prove to get a conviction against you: scheming to defraud others by false pretenses, intent to commit fraud, and use of interstate wire communications in furtherance of the scheme.
Here is a closer look at these elements below:
Element 1. Scheming to Defraud Others
Prosecutors must establish that you committed or attempted to commit fraud against another person by using false pretenses to defraud them of their money, property, or assets. Federal wire fraud charges require that the defendant be involved in a “scheme” to defraud others, including deception evidence to defraud another party.
Element 2. Intent to Commit Fraud
Federal courts could struggle to convict you if they cannot explicitly establish that you intended to commit fraud. Federal wire fraud scheme participation does not always guarantee a conviction. However, if you are “recklessly indifferent,” you can still be convicted of wire fraud.
Element 3. Use of Interstate Communications
Federal wire fraud also includes the use of interstate communications. These include any electronic device used for communication, such as:
- Instant messages
- Phone calls
- Video communications
The law does not require that the use of the device play a significant role in the crime. It generally only requires that it plays a role and is proven with admissible, discoverable evidence. At this point, it is also worth noting that if evidence does not meet the rules of admissibility, a criminal defense lawyer could strike it down.
Related Article: Is Embezzlement a Felony in Pennsylvania?
What Is a Recent Example of Federal Wire Fraud?
Michael Avenatti, a lawyer who represented adult film actress Stormy Daniels, was convicted on February 4, 2022. The fraud charges stem from the allegation of Avenatti stealing payments from Daniels’ book-deal advance to the tune of $300,000. News reports state that Avenatti was convicted of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft and faces a possible 22-year prison sentence.
Let’s look at the facts that prosecutors proved to meet the elements of wire fraud for greater clarity. Notice that they meet the elements previously discussed:
- Fact 1. The prosecutors introduced evidence that Avenatti forged Daniels’ signature on a form that redirected wire transfers from $800,000
- Fact 2. He spent months evading her inquiries about the missing installments, leading her to believe the publishing company owed her money, based on the prosecution’s evidence
- Fact 3. The U.S. Attorney admitted evidence at trial that Avenatti never communicated that he had her money
A retainer agreement clause stated that he received any profits she earned from book-related contracts. Avenatti used that clause to imply she was lying about not agreeing to pay him for his book. No amount was ever discussed or agreed upon, according to trial evidence.
The case was tried in Manhattan, New York’s US District Court under case number 18-56351, Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, v. Donald J. Trump. You can review the docket via the US Supreme Court’s website.
The Jury Found that Avenatti Engaged In Willful Wire Fraud Acts
We share this example since it is a very recent, high-profile case, but it could also bring you some comfort. The Avenatti example involves forgery, avoidance, and other deceptive acts that were clear.
Your situation could be different. Law enforcement and prosecutors may not have as strong a case against you as they believe.
What Is the Penalty for Federal Wire Fraud?
If convicted of wire fraud, you could face up to twenty (20) years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000 (for individuals) or $500,000 (business entities). However, the alleged wire fraud could also result in stiffer penalties if the alleged fraud involved federal disaster relief funds or a financial institution, which include up to thirty (30) years in prison and a $1 million fine.
Related Article: What Are the Penalties for a Forged Money Order in Pennsylvania?
What Is the Difference Between Wire and Mail Fraud?
The primary distinction between mail and wire fraud is jurisdiction. Mail fraud involves using the US Postal Service or private interstate carrier, like UPS, and is charged under 18 USC § 1341. Wire fraud requires the use of interstate wire transmissions, such as an email, text message, or phone call.
What Are Common Defenses to Wire Fraud Charges?
Do not assume that you are already in a losing position just because you are potentially facing wire fraud charges. Anyone charged with wire fraud may raise viable defenses depending on the circumstances.
- Acting in good faith: Wire fraud is predicated on the intent to defraud someone of property. A person acting in good faith is someone who had no intention of committing fraud.
- Constructive fraud: This defense asserts that the fraud occurred due to careless business practices and lacking intent.
- Mistake of fact: This defense asserts that you did not act fraudulently. It is distinguished from the lack of intent defense in that it was your sincere belief that the facts you communicated were accurate.
- Puffery: Salespeople use flattery, exaggeration, and opinionated statements to persuade others, which is not always considered fraud. For example, telling customers over the phone that a product is the best of its kind is unlikely to commit wire fraud.
- Statute of limitations: The statute of limitations for wire fraud is five years under 18 USC. Section 1343. If the wire fraud affects a financial institution, then the statute of limitations is ten years. The government is prohibited from prosecuting you after the statute of limitations has run out. If it has been five years or more since the last alleged use of communication to defraud, you may be able to assert a statute of limitations defense.
If you have been charged with wire fraud, you should immediately seek legal representation from an experienced attorney. Convictions carry severe penalties, and a great deal is at stake in fraud cases, particularly those involving finances.
Related Article: How Strong Is an Alibi Defense?
What Else Should I Know About Potential Wire Fraud Charges?
It is hard to pinpoint exactly what to expect when facing a wire fraud investigation. Every case is unique and carries different facts. However, there is other general legal information that you should understand since they apply to many cases that we have outlined below:
You Don’t Have to Be Directly Responsible
You may face charges of aiding and abetting wire fraud, even if you were unaware of the true nature of the communications. If the alleged scheme involved more than one person, you could be charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. In fact, charging individuals with aiding and abetting is a common tactic prosecutors use to gather evidence against the target of their investigation.
You Could Face Additional Charges
You will likely face other charges as well, such as bank, mail, securities, and tax fraud. The consequences of multiple convictions are severe, including millions of dollars in fines and a possible life sentence. That is the reality you are facing.
You Need to Protect Your Case NOW
If you think you will be charged with federal wire fraud, we strongly urge you not to play a game of wait-and-see with your future. Start protecting your case now by getting a criminal defense lawyer’s opinion. You can tell us a little bit about the situation you face, and we can tell you if legal intervention is appropriate.
Related Article: Why Hire a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer?
How Do I Get a Free Case Evaluation From a Criminal Defense Lawyer?
A Free Case Evaluation is an opportunity for a federal criminal lawyer to give you feedback about your case with the option to hire if you think we can help. If you live in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, Shuttleworth Law PC can help. Get a Free Case Evaluation with our firm by calling (215) 774-1371 or message Brad V. Shuttleworth, Esq. here directly.
Our legal team wants to make representation as easy on you as possible. If you cannot travel to our Philadelphia office, we can make other arrangements, such as coming to you, video chat, or by phone. Let us know what we can do to make your experience less stressful.