Wire Fraud Laws, Charges & Statute of Limitations

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While fraud is the category of crimes that focuses on intentional deception for material gain, wire fraud is the category of fraud that has to do with the use of telecommunications equipment such as wire, television, or radio. It is defined under federal law by 18 USC § 1343 and is distinct from other categories of fraud such as fraud by mail, telemarketing fraud, and fraud by false statements or documents issued in person.

Wire Fraud Laws

Because wire fraud almost always includes an element that crosses state lines, virtually all forms of wire fraud are prosecuted under federal jurisdiction. In addition to the laws covering general acts of wire fraud, the law makes special provision for any form of wire fraud that pertains to a state of emergency or disaster, as well as any form of wire fraud that directly affects any financial institution of the United States.

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Any criminal activity that involved the United States mail or electronic/digital communications, or both, is considered Mail or Wire Fraud. Many acts that fall under this definition actually use mail, television, radio, or the internet in order to transmit false or fraudulent promises or advertisements to the unsuspecting public. The Federal Government deals very harshly with this violation, being able to fine the violator up to $1,000,000 and send that person to prison for up to 30 years. Attorney Kuniansky explains more about this charge.

Wire Fraud Crimes & Charges

Federal wire fraud laws focus upon the type of fraud being committed and the social ill involved or the type of institution that was directly impacted. The federal statutes recognize several different categories of wire fraud according to their aggravating circumstances:

  • General wire fraud is any form of wire fraud using television, radio, or wire transmission across state lines or in foreign commerce without any aggravating factors. This might be compared to the general statute for other forms of fraud.
  • A special category of wire fraud is defined for frauds that are made in connection with any disaster event as defined in section 102 of the Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, which can be consulted at 42 U.S.C. 5122. This act focuses upon federal powers and responses in the event of natural disasters or other emergencies.
  • The second special category of wire fraud focuses upon acts of wire fraud that specifically impact financial institutions. Any act of wire fraud that can be shown to be connected with the operations of a financial institution may be considered aggravated fraud under federal statutes.

Wire Fraud Punishment

Wire fraud punishment depends upon the aggravating factors defined above. Generally speaking, the minimum penalty for an act of wire fraud entails a prison sentence of no more than twenty years. A fine is also defined in the federal statutes for wire fraud. As with many other acts of fraud and financial crimes, the fine is generally determined in connection with the amount of the original fraud and the value of any material gains, if any, created by the fraud.

Wire Fraud Sentencing Guidelines

Wire fraud sentencing guidelines inform the sentencing process for all forms of wire fraud. Under federal statute, even acts of “non-aggravated” wire fraud can carry a prison sentence up to twenty years as well as a fine. Aggravated acts of wire fraud that impact financial institutions or have connections with federally declared emergencies have separate minimum penalties. These penalties range up to thirty years in prison and a fine of up to one million dollars.

Wire Fraud Statute of Limitations

In general, federal prosecutors cannot prosecute a defendant, bring them to trial, or seek punitive measures on any noncapital offense, unless the defendant is indicted or information is entered within five years of the alleged offense. (Title 18, section 3281). Note that this statute of limitations may be invalidated in cases where fraud is undertaken in connection with a capital federal offense.

Wire Fraud Cases

As the communications infrastructure of the United States continues to grow and deepen, cases of wire fraud become more common. Although many fraudsters have turned to the use of online technology in order to commit their crimes, hundreds of wire fraud cases continue to be prosecuted under federal authority each and every year.

  • In 2009, financiers Paul Greenwood and Stephen Walsh were accused of conspiracy, securities fraud, and wire fraud in connection with an alleged Ponzi scheme affecting $812 million in assets and also including $1.3 million in alleged illegal wire transfers (Law.com)
  • In July of 2013, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman announced conspiracy to commit wire fraud charges against four Russian men and a Ukrainian who allegedly worked together to defraud organizations including NASDAQ, 7-Eleven, JC Penney and Visa of more than $300 million. (NJ Today)

Wire Fraud Quick Links & References

Wire Fraud Laws by State

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming