There are several types of fraud offenses under federal law. Also known as postal fraud, this offense involves the use of the mail to defraud another person. It is possible for federal prosecutors to make broad use of this offense. In fact, the portion of fraudulent activity that occurs through the United States Postal Service does not have to take up a major role in the scheme.
If you have been arrested for the federal offense of mail fraud, you are entitled to a strong advocate to serve as your attorney. Your legal counsel can assist you in understanding what to expect during the course of your criminal case. Attorney Vitaly Sigal is experienced in defending the rights of those accused of wrongdoing by the federal government. Call today to discuss your defense options.
Understanding Mail Fraud
Mail fraud is best understood by considering the elements of the crime. For a federal prosecutor to obtain a guilty verdict, they must meet three specific elements. These elements include:
- A fraudulent scheme
- The use of the mail system to further the scheme, and
- Intent to commit fraud
In general, a fraudulent scheme is one that involves knowingly or recklessly misrepresenting a material fact in an effort to deprive another person of a thing of value. The material misrepresentation could also be an intentional omission of a material fact. This could involve anything from outright suggesting a fake investment opportunity is real to omitting facts that would lead a person to believe the scheme was legitimate.
For the purposes of mail fraud, the crime could be committed whether or not the scheme was successful. This means you could face arrest whether or not there is an actual financial loss as the result of a scheme.
Use of the Mail System
What sets mail fraud apart from other types of federal fraud crimes is the use of the U.S. mail system. This criminal charge is not appropriate for fraudulent activity that involves face-to-face communication exclusively. That said, mail fraud could be a viable charge even if only a small portion of a scheme relates to the use of the mail.
Mail fraud could occur when any material part of the scheme involves placing material in the mail, causing something to be delivered by the mail system, or taking anything that was delivered by the mail system.
The final element is fraudulent intent. This means it is impossible to accidentally commit mail fraud. In fact, it is not enough for prosecutors to establish a person was directly involved in a fraudulent scheme. If a person was unknowingly part of fraudulent scheme, they could have a viable defense. It is possible for the prosecution to prove intent even without direct evidence if they can show a person acted with reckless indifference. In other words, a person that was not directly involved in a fraudulent scheme could face prosecution if they recklessly made false material claims they should have known were untrue.
Examples of Mail Fraud
Understanding mail fraud is easiest through the use of examples. Consider the examples below.
Jeff is a low level official in the federal government. He is in charge of choosing suppliers for paper products his department purchases. Michael is the manager of a paper supply company. In exchange for Jeff steering business to Michael, Michael pays Jeff kickbacks from the proceeds of the sales. Michael makes these payments to Jeff by sending them through the mail. This is enough to qualify as mail fraud.
Ted wants to sell subdivided property in rural Texas. He sends hundreds of letters to potential buyers asking for money in exchange for deeds to these parcels of land. The problem is that Ted does not own the property he claims to be selling. Because these fraudulent offers were transmitted through the mail, the charge of mail fraud would appropriate.
Frank is trying to open a lavish Hollywood night club but is struggling to find investors. To induce them, he sends letters promising that a famous actor is partnering with them and will appear at the club regularly. The celebrity has no affiliation with the club, however, and has made no promises to appear. Because this false material statement induces investors to part with their money, this is a fraudulent scheme. The fact that the solicitations were sent through the mail makes this mail fraud.
If convicted of mail fraud, you could expect to face steep penalties. A conviction could result in a prison term of up to 20 years even in cases where no money actually changes hands. While this penalty is potentially steep, it is possible for the federal government to enhance these penalties. If you are convicted of mail fraud that involves a financial institution or federal disaster the maximum penalty increases to 30 years. In either case, steep fines could also be a part of any conviction.
The important thing to consider when facing mail fraud charges is that a conviction is not guaranteed. You have the right to put forth a defense, but choosing the correct defense is vital. Some common defenses include
- Lack of intent
- Mistake of fact
- Constitutional violations
- Misrepresentation was not material
Working with an experienced federal defense lawyer could ensure you build a defense tailored to your case.
Work with a Mail Fraud Defense Attorney
One look at the potential penalties for a mail fraud conviction will tell you that a conviction for this offense is serious. In some cases, you could spend 30 years in federal prison. Given what is at stake, it is vital you avoid delay and speak with legal counsel immediately.
Not just any attorney will do. Federal court is unique, and experience taking on the federal government is valuable. If you are facing mail fraud charges in Los Angeles, attorney Vitaly Sigal could help. To discuss your case in person, contact the Sigal Legal Group for a free consultation as soon as possible.