Wire fraud is one of the most serious white collar felonies on the books, and it is almost always prosecuted under federal law rather than state law. Wire fraud requires the use of telecommunications, and is distinct from related offenses such as mail fraud. If you have been charged with wire fraud in the Houston area, your first response should be to seek the assistance of an experienced Houston wire fraud attorney.
The Elements of Wire Fraud
A prosecutor must prove the following four elements, each beyond a reasonable doubt, to establish wire fraud:
- The defendant intended to defraud;
- The defendant created or participated in a scheme designed to defraud people out money or property;
- It was reasonably foreseeable that the defendant would use interstate telephone calls or electronic communications such as wire, Internet, fax machines, Western Union, radio and television) in furtherance of the scheme; and
- The defendant in fact used interstate telephone calls or interstate electronic communications in furtherance of the scheme.
The number of possible wire fraud schemes is limited only by the human imagination. Some of the more well-known schemes include the following scenarios:
- Someone sends unsolicited “phishing” emails making false representations (the well-known “Nigerian prince” scam, for example) that conclude with a request for bank account details.
- A television minister solicits “charitable” donations that he then converts to his personal use.
- Someone accesses your friend’s email address book and emails you posing as a friend who is stranded far from home after a robbery and needs you to wire him money.
Normally, wire fraud carries with it a prison sentence of up to 20 years for each count, along with heavy fines. This maximum is increased to 30 years per count and a maximum $1 million fine if:
- the fraud affected a financial institution; or
- the fraud was related to a state of emergency declared by the President of the United States
Since each wire fraud case is unique, each defense must be carefully crafted to fit the specific facts. Nevertheless, some defenses are more common than others. Some of the most common defenses against wire fraud charges appear below:
- “Good faith”: The defendant had no intent to defraud. The defendant sent “phishing” emails as directed by his employer, for example, without knowledge of the intentions of his employer or the fact that the emails contained misrepresentations.
- “Sales puffery”: The defendant’s misrepresentations consisted of moderate or vague exaggerations of his product’s value to a degree that is common in the sales industry, the magnitude of which were not serious enough to amount to criminal conduct.
- No interstate telecommunications were used (this particular defense would reduce a wire fraud charge to a lesser state law offense)
Mario Madrid is a top-tier Houston white collar crimes lawyer with nearly two decades of practice experience. He has served as both a prosecutor and judge, and he has been certified as a specialist in Criminal Law. If you need help defending yourself against a Houston wire fraud charge call Madrid Law, PLLC immediately at 713-877-9400 for a free initial evaluation of your case.