Federal Wire Fraud Defense Lawyer

Home /  Practice Areas /  Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers /  Federal Wire Fraud Defense Lawyer

Defense Attorney for Federal Wire Fraud Charges | 18 U.S.C. § 1343

Our lawyers have more than 30 years of combined experience defending against white-collar fraud charges in federal court. One of the most common offenses in federal court is Wire Fraud, under 18 U.S.C. § 1343. A Wire Fraud charge generally indicates that prosecutors believe you used a phone or the internet to carry out a fraudulent scheme (e.g., phone call, texting, email, facsimile).

CONTACT JOHNSON/CITRONBERG | (703) 684-8000

Wire fraud is typically charged both as a conspiracy and as a substantive offense. The law is a favorite tool used by federal fraud prosecutors as a conviction normally ensures some amount of prison time as well as the forfeiture of assets like homes, vehicles, and bank accounts. Common situations that lead to wire fraud charges include:

  • Alleged ponzi Schemes
  • Internet scams
  • Investment schemes
  • Schemes targeting the elderly
  • Any transfers of funds that came from an alleged plan to defraud
  • Schemes to defraud the government (such as PPP loan fraud cases)

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What is Wire Fraud?

To be convicted of wire fraud, the government must be able to prove the following four elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. A plan to defraud. There was a scheme to cheat others out of money (although it can also be intangible property such as protected business information).
  2. Material and false representations. The alleged scheme must have contained representations that were false and material.
  3. Intent. The defendant must have actually intended to defraud the victim out of money.
  4. Interstate or foreign commerce. This element is typically met if a phone or the internet was used to carry out the alleged fraud (e.g., email or text message).

Each specific transaction of wire fraud is referred to as a “substantive offense.” For instance, if a victim wired money to an investment firm on two different dates, the indictment would likely allege two counts of wire fraud.

What is a conspiracy to commit wire fraud?

Prosecutors will typically charge an individual with each specific transaction of fraud as well as a general conspiracy charge. A conspiracy to commit wire fraud is brought under 18 U.S.C. § 1349. A conspiracy charge is simply when two or more people agree to violate a federal law and then take some action to carry out that plan.

Prosecutors charge people with conspiracies for two reasons. First, conspiracy charges tend to be easier to prove in court, because prosecutors don’t have to show a fraud was actually committed (only that the defendant intended to do so). Second, conspiracy charges make it easier to show “relevant conduct” which often includes the conduct of other people in the conspiracy (even if the defendant was unaware of their actions). This can lead to greater sentences and higher loss amounts for an individual defendant.

What are the penalties for wire fraud?

Wire fraud carries a potential sentencing range of 0 to 20 years in prison. If the fraud involved a bank or financial institution the maximum increases to 30 years in prison.

A defendant’s actual sentence is based on the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, § 3553 factors (or characteristics unique to the defendant), and the judge’s discretion. Under the Guidelines, the base offense level for wire fraud is a level 7 which recommends a sentence between 0 to 6 months in prison.

The Guidelines level increases quickly based on the loss amount and other enhancements that may apply. For example, a defendant who has a loss amount of $500,000 (+12 levels) would have a total offense level of 19 with a Guidelines range of 30 to 37 months in prison. As shown in the chart below, judges typically sentence under the Guidelines range due to 3553 factors.

What are common defenses to wire fraud?

Every case presents a unique set of facts, and a white collar defense lawyer may employ a creative or multi-tier defense. Some of the more common defenses in wire fraud cases include:

  • No Intent. The most common defense in wire fraud cases is that the defendant lacked the intent to defraud. If there was no intent to defraud, there can be no conviction. We see this quite often in investment fraud cases where a company promised clients a high return on investment. The individual employee of the offending company may have lacked the sophistication to understand that such returns were not possible. In other cases, an employee may have been kept in the dark to red flags that would have suggested that the company or others within the company were committing fraud.
  • Good faith. Similar to a lack of intent, a good faith defense is premised on the idea that you made all of the alleged claims in good faith. If you honestly believed that a stock would yield a particular return, then you cannot be convicted of wire fraud.
  • Materiality. The government must show that the misrepresentation was “material.” In other words, the misrepresentation must have influenced someone to do something. In many cases, the alleged misrepresentation is merely puffery or collateral to the central plan.
  • Lack of an agreement. In any conspiracy case, the government must show an agreement to violate the law. We have seen cases where the government charges someone simply because a co-worker, friend, or family member engaged in an illegal scheme. But mere association is not enough to convict someone of wire fraud.

Is mail fraud the same thing as wire fraud?

No, mail fraud is a separate statue (18 U.S.C.§ 1341) and concerns fraudulent schemes carried out through the mail. Much of the case law that was developed under the mail fraud statute (such as what constitutes a scheme) also applies to the wire fraud statute. It is also not uncommon for a defendant to be charged with both wire fraud and mail fraud.

Does the victim have to suffer an actual loss?

No, a victim does not have to lose money for the defendant to be convicted of wire fraud. The government only has to show that the defendant played an active role in a scheme designed to defraud others.

It should also be noted that the harm can include tangible property (e.g., funds in a bank account) and intangible property (e.g., confidential business information). See, United States v. Carpenter, 484 U.S. 25 (1987). In recent years, the Department of Justice has used the Carpenter case to charge individuals who allegedly stole proprietary information from companies through internet hacking or an insider (such as an employee).

WIRE FRAUD BY THE NUMBERS

Number of Wire Fraud Cases

The number of wire fraud prosecutions has significantly increased over the past decade. In 2023, there were more than 1,300 prosecutions for wire fraud across the country. Some of the most recent high-profile federal cases have involved wire fraud allegations, including Elizabeth Holmes in the Theranos case and Sam Bankman-Fried in the FTX case.

AVERAGE SENTENCES

Courts routinely sentence defendants convicted of wire fraud below the minimum amount recommended by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The red line above indicates the average sentence in fraud cases while the blue line indicates the average Guidelines recommendation. This is because white collar defendants are less likely to have a criminal history and are more likely to have “3553 factors” which weigh in favor of a lenient sentence.

Contact Us

Our law firm represents clients across the country in federal court. We have successfully prevented clients from being charged in cases where we have been retained early enough. In other cases, we have won dismissals, obtained reductions to avoid harsh mandatory minimums, and achieved some of the lowest sentences possible. If you are looking for an experienced, results-driven lawyer, give us a call at 855-959-4003. Your initial consultation is always confidential and free of charge.

Testimonials

Request Your Consultation

Fields Marked With An “*” Are Required

"*" indicates required fields

I Have Read The Disclaimer*
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.