According to US law, mail fraud is any type of illegal operation involving fraud that uses the mail system to deprive others of money or property. Mail fraud also can extend to wire communications, although this is normally referred to as wire fraud. Mail fraud is usually done via the US Postal service, but in the modern era, carriers such as FedEx and UPS are also used for mail fraud. No matter the specifics of the case, mail fraud is a serious crime and you can be harshly punished if convicted.
Mail Fraud Laws
Mail fraud often occurs when the suspect sends in the mail a communication that is intended to defraud another person. Some specifics of mail fraud are variations of this general theme, but the crime usually involves a fraudulent that tries to trick another person to send them money or property.
Mail fraud laws at the federal level have several requirements that need to be satisfied for criminal charges to be filed. First, the alleged criminal needs to have been actively attempting to defraud someone and not just deceive them. This is a key distinction. In fraud, the sender of the letter is trying to get something of value for nothing. In a deception, a real product or service is offered, but the information in the letter is somehow deceptive. It also needs to be a case of fraud that is committed intentionally. If there is not intent, mail fraud cannot be charged.
Mail fraud laws and punishments at the federal level are described in 18 US Code Chapter 63 - Mail Fraud and Other Fraud Offenses. (Cornell.edu).
Mail Fraud Crimes and Charges
Mail fraud can involve many scenarios and schemes. Generally, any situation where mail of any type is used to try to defraud a person will be defined by law enforcement as mail fraud. Note that while using a phone by itself will not mean there was a fraud committed. There also are cases where using wire transfers and even communications on a computer that could be mail fraud.
Mail fraud can also involve other frauds, which also are serious state and federal charges.
- Lottery fraud
- Telemarketing fraud
- Financial fraud
- Employment fraud
- Sweepstakes fraud
In these types of crimes, other charges may be filed including mail fraud. State and local punishments and penalties also can apply including federal ones. One important aspect of mail fraud is that it must involve communications that went across state lines.
Mail Fraud Punishment
Those found guilty of mail fraud at the federal level can face fines that are as high as 20 years in prison. Mail fraud that involves a disaster or a state of emergency that affects a financial institution could result in a fine of $1 million, 30 years in prison, or a combination.
Mail fraud that uses wire transfers, radio or TV communication can have fines and prison sentences of as long as 20 years. If the fraud damages a financial institution, fines can be as high as $1 million and the prison sentence can be 30 years or higher.
Mail Fraud Punishment in Massachusetts
It should be noted that mail fraud crosses state lines and usually involves the US Postal Service, so it is a federal crime. USC 1341 and 1343 give the framework for these serious federal crimes. These statutes are commonly used by both state and federal prosecutors in Massachusetts because they are simple to use and can be easily expanded to other crimes.
If you are convicted of mail fraud in Massachusetts, you will be sentenced according to the federal sentencing guidelines.
Mail Fraud Sentencing Guidelines
If the crime of mail fraud is prosecuted by the US government, as it is in most cases, you will be sentenced according to the sentencing guidelines laid out by the federal government. The beginning offense level is 6, unless you were convicted for something else before, which means you would start at a 7. The money the victims lost during the mail fraud will decide how many points are added to that 6 or 7. For example, mail fraud that took up to $10,000 will add a value of 2. But if you stole $7,000,000, 20 points could be added. The point system is the major aspect of the federal sentencing guidelines that affect your length of sentence.
Mail Fraud Cases
There have been many serious mail fraud scams in the last several years in the US. One was the case of Tim Donovan and Sharon Henningsen. They engaged in a mail fraud scheme where phony solicitation letters were sent to people offering them the chance to work at home and stuff and mail envelopes. The letter requested them to pay for administrative materials up front, which ranged from $60 to $150. They promised they would earn up to $5000 per week.
The two criminals deposited more than $3 million into their bank accounts in 2007. Federal investigators found victims had also paid $800,000 in postage as they responded to the letters. The federal judge sentences them both to 11 years in prison. (legaldictionary.net).
Mail Fraud Defenses
Strong criminal defense attorneys can provide effective defenses to a federal or state charge of mail fraud. A possible defense is to force the prosecution to show definitive proof of your scheme to defraud. This is a highly complex legal nuance which has been the subject of much argument and attempts at clarification in these cases.
A good defense lawyer could argue the letter communication was not related to the scheme. Another possible defense is you did not have intent or knowledge of the mail fraud. Your attorney could also challenge subject matter jurisdiction, and make the argument that the case should not be in federal court.
What to Do If You’re Charged
If you face a state or federal mail fraud charge from the federal government or the state of Massachusetts, you should obtain a strong criminal defense attorney immediately. Keep in mind that the government has vast resources available to secure a conviction; they will stop at nothing to convict you for mail fraud.
Attorney Geoffrey Nathan has many years of proven success defending clients from serious state and federal charges in state and federal court, including mail fraud. Whether negotiating a plea deal or going to trial, Attorney Nathan will be best best advocate during this stressful time. For a criminal defense legal consultation, please contact him at (617) 472-5775.
- Mail Fraud Definition. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://legaldictionary.net/mail-fraud/
- Mail Fraud Laws Federal Level. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/part-I/chapter-63