Wire fraud is a criminal offense involving the intentional and voluntary use of an interstate communications device to defraud another party of anything of value. This is a federal crime that can come with serious penalties, including a $250,000 fine, 20 years of imprisonment and five years of supervised release.
It is important for anyone under investigation or facing charges for wire fraud to understand the elements of and possible defenses to this crime.
An individual cannot commit wire fraud by accident. Federal prosecutors must be able to prove a willingness to defraud a person or institution to obtain a conviction. There must be evidence of a plan that involves a promise, deception, statement or misrepresentation with the intent to deprive the other party of something of value.
Use of an interstate communications device
To commit wire fraud, the perpetrator must use a communications device that can send or receive messages across state lines. This often involves the use of a computer, phone or fax machine.
Actual loss is not necessary
A wire fraud conviction does not require the other party to lose anything of value. The wire fraud statute outlaws partaking in a scheme to defraud, so an attempt is enough to secure a conviction.
Deprivation of honest services
Wire fraud charges can apply in instances when an individual engages in a plan to defraud people of honest services. For example, a public official who participates in bribery may face wire fraud charges for depriving citizens of honest services.
Here are some possible ways for defendants to challenge wire fraud charges:
- Good faith: There may be a lack of intent or knowledge of the crime. The defendant may also be able to show adherence to state laws or legal advice.
- Puffery: This is a common defense for salespeople who may use exaggerations or flattery in an attempt to persuade prospective buyers.
It is also important to note that the statute of limitations for wire fraud is five years, so prosecutors cannot convict someone for the offense after that timeframe passes.