Mail fraud occurs when U.S. Mail is used in furtherance of a criminal act. In order for a defendant to be convicted under 18 U.S.C. 1341 for committing mail fraud, the following elements must be satisfied: (1) the defendant must have been engaged in a scheme to defraud; (2) the scheme must have involved material misstatements or omissions; (3) the scheme resulted, or would have resulted upon completion, in the loss of money, property, or honest services; (4) the defendant must have used of U.S. mail in furtherance of a scheme to defraud; and (5) the defendant used or caused the use of U.S.mail. In 1994, Congress expanded it to include the use of “private or commercial interstate carriers,” such as FedEx and UPS.
Elements of Mail Fraud
Scheme to Defraud
Someone was deprived of property by deceitful or dishonest means. The scheme need not involve an affirmative misrepresentation or lie. And the property that is the target of the scheme can be tangible property or intangible property.
Intent to Defraud
The defendant has an intent to be either deceitful or dishonest. Wire fraud cannot be committed if the individual believes their statements and actions were truthful and honest.
Use of Mail in Furtherance of the Scheme
This means only that a mailing form is a part of the scheme. The mailing does not have to be an essential element of the scheme to commit fraud. Mail is just of the crime, not central to the crime.
Mail Fraud Penalties
Mail fraud penalties are potentially very significant. While the specific penalty a court imposes will differ significantly based on the circumstances of the case, any mail fraud conviction can result in high fines, long prison sentences, and other penalties.
The potential prison penalty for a federal mail fraud crime is very high. Each offense can result in a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison. However, the penalty can be harsher if the crime involves specific victims or elements. When, for example, a fraud scheme involves federal disaster relief or where the victim is a financial institution, sentences of 30 years per offense are possible.
Mail fraud fines are also very high. A conviction for a single count of mail fraud can result in a fine of up to $250,000. For fraud involving financial institutions or federal disaster relief, fines of up to $1 million per offense are possible.
Mail fraud convictions can also result in a probation term. Anyone sentenced to probation has to spend a specific amount of time, typically one to three years or more, abiding by specific court conditions in lieu of serving prison time. These conditions limit the person’s liberties, such as by requiring the probationer to regularly report to a probation monitor, submitting to random home searches or random drug tests, not associating with known criminals, and not committing other crimes.
When a mail fraud scheme succeeds in defrauding someone of property or causes harm to a victim, courts make restitution a part of the sentence. Restitution payments are made to the victims so they can recover what they lost as a result of the fraud. Restitution payments must be made in addition to fines, and when probation is given, are made a condition of the sentence.