Fraud is a broad term for a crime in which false information is being used by an individual or business in order to collect benefits, such as money. Mail fraud is a more specific type of fraud in which the US Postal Service is used to commit fraud. This is governed by 18 USC 63 of the United States Code.
This statute was first enacted in 1872. This was to stop illicit mailings using the then Post Office in order to execute a form of fraud. Congress expanded the statute in 1994 to include parcels ‘sent or delivered by a private or commercial interstate carrier’. Because of this, the mail fraud statute is now very broad and includes, such things as identity theft, bank fraud, tax fraud, and investment fraud. If it is difficult for prosecution to prove a certain heavier case, they will often use mail fraud as an alternative case. Other times, mail fraud is added in order to make a sentence harsher.
Laws and Penalties
Mail fraud can only be prosecuted if four elements are present:
- The defendants knew they were participating in fraud in order to obtain property or money through false representation, pretenses or promises.
- The pretenses, promises and representations were in relation to a material fact.
- The defendants had the intent to defraud and acted willfully.
- The defendants used the U.S Postal Service or other carrier in order to deposit something that assisted in the scheme to defraud.
As such, in order for mail fraud to occur, the defendants must have intentionally and willfully planned to benefit personally and/or harm others by using deception. In many cases, these acts are classed as misdemeanors, often because they involve a single instance, or an item of little value. If the activity is large scale or of high value, it would be classed as a felony.
Convictions for these usually mean fines and jail times. The sentence would generally be higher in a felony case, where the sentence would usually be at least one year. However, if the item is very valuable or if a government agency is involved, then it is not unheard of for a sentence to be as long as 20 years.
As with most crimes, if defendants have had previous convictions, then it is likely that their sentence will also be harsher. If the previous convictions also involve fraud, then the sentences would be even longer. The penalties involved in mail fraud can be very severe in all cases. If a financial institution is involved, penalties are even harsher. Fines can be up to $1,000,000 and prison sentences can be up to 30 years. In fact, it has been known for mortgage fraud cases, with loan processors coming up with huge schemes to harm borrowers, to lead to life in prison.
Mail fraud cases are almost always federal crimes. However, some are trialed at the state level and Massachusetts is known for handing down additional sentences after someone is released from prison. This means they also have to do community service. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for convicts to lose some constitutional rights such as joining the army, the right to vote and the right to own a weapon.
Mail Fraud Defenses
Determining a course of action for defense in a mail fraud case can be very complicated. A good attorney will look through all the available evidence and find out whether there are any issues or problems within the case that can be highlighted. Because these crimes are often highly complicated, a good attorney may be able to find some sort of technicality to have it thrown out.
By looking at all the collection techniques and available evidence, they will ensure that a trial, if it comes to that, is fair. If the defendants are able to show they were not aware of the fact that they were partaking in a mail fraud scheme, then this often helps a lot towards their defense. While they will still be likely to receive a fine, the penalties will usually not be as harsh.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations on mail fraud cases is five years. However, if the fraud was connected to another capital federal or state offense, then the statute will be in relation to that particular offense and it may be longer.
Mail Fraud Cases
- Needham investment advisor Jane E. O’Brien receives additional 45 months in prison for mail fraud – O’Brien was convicted in May 2013 of defrauding a single client out of almost $250,000. She was sentenced to 33 months in prison, fines and restitution and will now have to serve a further 45 months in prison.
- Dmitry Naskovets, a former identity thief, is now available for hire – Naskovets was jailed for identity theft and mail fraud. He is now out of prison and is offering his unusual ‘expertise’ to American Express’ security department to help them combat further identity theft.
- Bay State couple fined $50,000 for their mortgage mail fraud involvement – A couple from the Bay State swindled investors out of $11 million. They have been ordered to pay the fine, as well as $350,000 in restitution.
- Ex International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 82 from Boston Thomas Flaherty has pleaded guilty to mail fraud and unemployment fraud – This case is not the first time Flaherty has had brushes with the law, which may influence his sentence.