Federal charges for mail fraud are applicable when crimes are committed that involve the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The statute has been modified to also include fraudulent activity committed using “private or commercial interstate carriers” such as Federal Express. The federal mail fraud and wire fraud statutes are very similar and they are commonly used in various types of fraud cases. These include crimes of bank or telemarketing fraud, RICO, and money laundering.
Mail Fraud (18 U.S. Code §1341)
The crime involves plotting or devising a “scheme or artifice” that seeks to fraudulently obtain something of value. It commonly involves sending some mail containing offers based on pretenses, misrepresentation, and overstated promises. The crimes are committed with intent and involve sending some type of article through the Postal Service or another interstate carrier. The charges also apply when someone “attempts or conspires” to commit these offenses.
The prosecutor must produce evidence that confirms that a coordinated plan to execute the crime existed. Not all the details of the scheme need to be determined. It must be proven that the offender was a “knowing and active participant” in the scheme and the success or failure of the crime is unimportant.
A convicted party may be ordered to pay a maximum of a $250,000 fine and a maximum 20-year prison sentence may be imposed. The penalties are enhanced if the violation is somehow associated with a disaster, declared a state of emergency, or adversely affects a bank or similar institution. In these cases, the court may impose a fine of $1 million and a 30-year prison sentence.
Other Possible Penalties
If the fraud is committed by an organization rather than an individual, the $250,000 monetary penalty may be extended to $500,000. If the crime involves identity theft, a two-year mandatory minimum prison sentence applies. Other penalties include a period of supervised release, an order to make restitution, and forfeiture of monies and other assets. A term of probation may also be ordered for a period between one and five years.
Orders of Supervised Release
Supervised release is very similar to parole that applies to those who complete a prison sentence and are reentering the community. Some of the key provisions are as follows:
- A supervised release may be imposed at the court's discretion; however, the Sentencing Guidelines do allow it for any felony case.
- An order for supervised release may last for a maximum of three years.
- A supervised release agreement will establish some rules or conditions that must be adhered to.
- Those who commit a serious violation of the conditions imposed may be returned to prison for a maximum of two years.
- Three conditions are mandatory as follows:
- That no further crimes are committed
- A sample of the offender's DNA is obtained
- Drug testing will be conducted periodically
Fictitious Name or Address (18 U.S. Code §1342)
This offense could be considered as an additional or supplementary crime that applies to those charged with mail fraud. It is committed by using or assuming a fictional or false name or address when executing a fraudulent scheme through the Postal Service. This charge is punishable by a fine and a maximum prison sentence of five years.
Who Investigates Mail Fraud?
Investigations of possible mail or wire fraud are largely conducted by the FBI. In cases where certain financial instruments are involved, assistance may be provided by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Potential violations are often initially detected by the Postal Inspection Service agency within the USPS. As investigations develop, they are transitioned to the United States Attorney of the jurisdiction where the articles were sent or received via USPS.
Honest Services Fraud Offenses
This is an offense involving mail or wire fraud that defrauds someone of the “intangible right to honest services.” The charge is predominately used when the defendant is an official employed by a local, state or federal governmental entity. These individuals are seen as having a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the public. The prosecutor can consider “higher calculations for sentencing” when these cases result in a conviction.
Tax-Related Mail Fraud
The Tax Division of the Department of Justice may employ the mail fraud statutes for cases of significant tax fraud. Cases involving a single taxpayer are generally not prosecuted under the mail fraud statute. It is most commonly used when there were multiple fraudulently filed tax returns seeking refunds. It is also employed in more elaborate schemes where the identity of other taxpayers is used to file returns. In these situations, the victims are generally not aware that the crime occurred until the IRS informs them that they had already filed their return for that tax year.
Recent Mail Fraud Offenses in New Jersey
- Postage fraud of $1.5 million: Two men who operated a bulk mailing company in Gloucester County admitted to mail fraud involving $1.5 million in postage. They underreported mass mailings and falsified USPS forms to avoid actually paying for the postage that their clients had already paid them for.
- “Mail fishing”: Several thieves in North Jersey were arrested for mail fraud involving a scheme that involved “fishing out” mail deposited in USPS mailboxes using various devices. They fraudulently obtained checks that would be cashed or use the account and routing numbers on the checks to steal bank funds.
- Large invoice scheme: A Gloucester County man was charged with several counts of mail fraud after mailing more than 10,000 invoices to hospitals, physician offices and other medical facilities for supplies that were never ordered or received. Roughly 169 recipients mailed in payments that were deposited into an account for a phony business called Pinnacle Medical Supply.
Your defense attorney may consider various strategies for a defense based on the circumstances of your case. The defendant may assert that they believed the statements or promises contained in a mailed document were true. This does not apply if the defendant “blinds himself to the truth.” This strategy challenges the key element of fraudulent intent. Another defense involves challenging the admissibility of the evidence. An example would be that the evidence was improperly obtained by failing to comply with search and seizure rights.
Legal Representation for Defending Charges of Mail Fraud
Those who are arrested for serious federal fraud offenses should promptly consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Joseph D. Lento has aggressively represented clients in these cases for many years in the New Jersey courts. Contact the office today for a free case evaluation at (888) 535-3686.