You hear younger employees in your office cracking about mail fraud with the same wonderment they might have with a rotary phone. But mail fraud is no generational joke. It is a serious federal offense casting a wide enforcement net that can ensnare business owners, professionals and financiers who might have made a mistake.
So many people and companies rely on mail service that it can be a powerful tool for prosecutors to build a criminal case and leverage against people they target during investigations.
Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Jed Rakoff, now a federal judge in New York, described the influence and adaptability of mail fraud laws in a 1980 Duquesne Law Review article. He called them “our Stradivarius, our Colt .45, our Louisville Slugger, our Cuisinart – and our true love.” Getting caught in that dragnet can have major consequences.
Someone convicted of mail fraud faces up to 20 years in prison. Incarceration increases to 30 years and or a $1 million fine if the fraud was committed in violation of a declared federal disaster or emergency.
A simple crime
Fraud is any scheme that uses false pretenses to obtain money or property, or to sell, distribute or supply counterfeit material. Using interstate mail to perpetrate the scheme triggers federal authority. It could be the U.S. Postal Service or a private carrier such as Federal Express or United Parcel Service.
The Justice Department defines two elements for prosecutors to prove mail fraud:
- You must have devised or intended to devise a scheme to defraud (or to perform specified fraudulent acts)
- You used the mail or other interstate commercial services to execute the scheme or specified fraudulent acts)
This could include mailing a letter, contract, check or receipt involved in a scheme. Mail fraud is at the heart of a college admissions scandal in which 15 people have been sentenced in connection with a conspiracy among parents, coaches and test administrators to get teenagers into schools they were unqualified to attend.
A sophisticated defense
Mail fraud is a white-collar case that can put you in the crosshairs of a multifaceted federal investigation, a potential criminal trial or possible civil lawsuit. Other allegations can surface and require extensive document analysis and research to build a strong defense.
The stakes are high when fighting the government, facing incarceration and protecting your rights. It might help to have someone with sophisticated expertise in finance and federal law who can challenge evidence and build a defense that supports your case.