The following is excerpted from an interview with a DC federal mail and wire fraud lawyer, where he answers several questions about federal mail and wire fraud charges.
Essentially, mail fraud involves false statements or false schemes being used in an attempt to defraud the government using the U.S. mail system. Because individuals allegedly use the interstate mail system — the postal service — to further their crimes, the person is often charged with mail fraud.
Wire fraud is the same sort of thing, however there is a different medium by which the communication is made. For example, if a public official – such as the governor of a state – is bribed by a lobbyist to take certain official action in exchange for cash, trips, or fancy cars and things of that nature, and they use the telephone system or the internet and exchange emails in order to carry out this illegal scheme, they could be charged with wire fraud. It’s essentially participating in fraudulent conduct using the interstate wire system.
Mail fraud and wire fraud are rarely charged as standalone offenses. Generally speaking, they are crimes that go along with other offenses. For example, bribery, deprivation of honest services, tax fraud, and import-export fraud offenses are often piggy-backed by mail fraud and wire fraud. So you have a scenario where they become factors within the overall sentence. Generally, the sentence reflects the entire conduct. It’s hard to isolate a sentence for just mail fraud or wire fraud. I’ve rarely seen a situation where a person is only charged with that or only sentenced for that charge.
They are certainly serious felonies and they have consequences for people who hold a public license, intend to do business with the government in the future, are trying to get a security clearance, or anything of that nature. All of those things can be affected, not to mention incarceration and the stigma that is attached with that.
It is important for one who is charged with mail fraud, wire fraud, and very likely other substantive offenses that go along with these alleged offenses to hire someone who is experienced in assimilating documents, who can quickly understand what the government’s theory of the case is, and can investigate and explore — and perhaps prove — that there were innocent, legitimate, and non-illegal reasons why this conduct occurred. Having a person who is experienced in this area increases the chances that one will get the justice that they deserve.