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What is wire fraud?

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Wire fraud is one of the two most commonly used criminal statutes by the U.S. Government in prosecuting fraud cases. The crime of wire fraud makes it illegal for any person to devise a scheme to obtain money or other property by means of false or fraudulent representations. In addition to this broad definition, the federal government has added as an element of the crime the use of any electronic communication such as the use of wire, radio, or television. The use of a “wire” includes such things as emails, or a bank sending a wire transfer of funds to another bank. The use of the email does not have to contain any false information as long as it furthers the scheme to defraud.

Each use of a wire communication in furtherance of the scheme to defraud constitutes a separate crime. The maximum sentence for each crime of wire fraud is 20 years in prison. If the fraud affects a financial institution, the crime is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. It is not uncommon for wire fraud cases to involve multiple counts. For example, in a mortgage fraud case based upon false representations to obtain a loan, separate charges can be filed for each email to close the loan and for the wire transfer of money to fund the loan. In healthcare fraud cases, wire fraud is also often used. For example, the government may believe that the healthcare provider is overcharging for services. This may occur by using incorrect CPT codes to overcharge. The government can charge a separate crime for each bill for services submitted over the internet and for each wire transfer of funds sent to the healthcare provider as payment of the overcharged services.

Wire fraud can also be based upon a television commercial that contains false information about a product. The government may choose to charge wire fraud based upon the transfer of credit card payments being sent to the defendant company by victims.

The broad nature of the wire fraud statute can result in criminal cases that improperly charge and convict citizens. The defense of wire fraud cases requires counsel experienced in such federal criminal prosecutions. A successful defense is often dependent on the entry of defense counsel early in the government’s investigation. The conduct of a defense investigation by an experienced white-collar criminal defense attorney can develop information crucial to a successful defense.

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