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Criminal resource manual 9-43.000 - Mail Fraud And Wire Fraud

Prosecutions of fraud ordinarily should not be undertaken if the scheme employed consists of some isolated transactions between individuals, involving minor loss to the victims, in which case the parties should be left to settle their differences by civil or criminal litigation in the state courts.

Serious consideration, however, should be given to the prosecution of any scheme which in its nature is directed to defrauding a class of persons, or the general public, with a substantial pattern of conduct.

See also USAM 9-85.210 (requires prior consultation with the Public Integrity Section to use the mail or wire fraud statutes in the prosecution of election fraud cases).

Further guidance and legal analysis of issues surrounding the investigation and prosecution of frauds involving use of the mail or wire, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1341 and 1343 can be found in the Criminal Resource Manual:

940. 18 U.S.C. Section 1341—Elements of Mail Fraud

"There are two elements in mail fraud:

Schmuck v. United States, 489 U.S. 705, 721 n. 10 (1989); see also Pereira v. United States, 347 U.S. 1, 8 (1954) ("The elements of the offense of mail fraud under . . . § 1341 are (1) a scheme to defraud, and (2) the mailing of a letter, etc., for the purpose of executing the scheme.");

Laura A. Eilers & Harvey B. Silikovitz, Mail and Wire Fraud, 31 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 703, 704 (1994) (cases cited).

942. The Scheme and Artifice to Defraud

The wire fraud statute was patterned after the mail fraud statutes. United States v. Lemon, 941 F.2d 309, 316 (5th Cir. 1991); United States v. Castillo, 829 F.2d 1194, 1198 (1st Cir. 1987). Thus, the same principles apply in defining "scheme to defraud" for mail and wire fraud prosecutions. See Carpenter v. United States, 484 U.S. 19, 25 n. 6 (1987) ("The mail and wire fraud statutes share the same language in relevant part, and accordingly we apply the same analysis to both sets of offenses here."); United States v. Lemire, 720 F.2d 1327, 1334-35 n. 6 (D.C. Cir. 1983) ("The requisite elements of 'scheme to defraud' under the wire fraud statute [§ 1343] and the mail fraud statute [§ 1341], are identical. Thus, cases construing mail fraud apply to the wire fraud statute as well."), cert. denied, 467 U.S. 1226 (1984).

The mail fraud and wire fraud statutes do not define the terms "scheme" or "artifice" and the courts have traditionally been reluctant to offer definitions of either term except in the broadest and most general terms. Lemire, 720 F.2d at 1335 ("Congress did not define 'scheme or artifice to defraud' when it first coined that phrase, nor has it since. Instead that expression has taken on its present meaning from 111 years of case law.").

The fraudulent aspect of the scheme to defraud is to be measured by nontechnical standards and is not restricted by any common-law definition of false pretenses. "[T]he words 'to defraud' in the mail fraud statute have the 'common understanding' of '"wrongdoing one in his property rights by dishonest methods or schemes," and "usually signify the deprivation of something of value by trick, chicane, or overreaching."'" Carpenter, 484 U.S. at 27 (quoting McNally v. United States, 483 U.S. 350, 358 (1987) (quoting Hammerschmidt v. United States, 265 U.S. 182, 188 (1924))). "The concept of 'fraud' includes the act of embezzlement, which is '"the fraudulent appropriation to one's own use of the money or goods entrusted to one's own care by another."'" Id. (quoting Grin v. Shine, 187 U.S. 181, 189 (1902)).

944. Proof of Scheme and Artifice to Defraud

To sustain a conviction the government must prove the existence of a scheme; it is not required, however, to prove all details or all instances of allegedly illicit conduct. See, e.g., United States v. Stull, 743 F.2d 439, 442 n. 2 (6th Cir. 1984) ("It is well established that proof of every allegation is not required in order to convict; the government need only prove that the scheme to defraud existed."), cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1062 (1985); United States v. Halbert, 640 F.2d 1000, 1008 (9th Cir. 1981) ("[T]he Government need not prove every misrepresentation charged conjunctively in the indictment."); United States v. Jordan, 626 F.2d 928, 930 (D.C. Cir. 1980) ("The Government is not required to prove the details of a scheme; it is, however, required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt . . . that the defendant . . . willfully and knowingly devised a scheme or artifice to defraud . . . .") (quoting with approval the trial court's instruction on § 1341); United States v. Amrep Corp., 560 F.2d 539, 546 (2d Cir. 1977) ("A scheme to defraud may consist of numerous elements, no particular one of which need be proved if there is sufficient overall proof that the scheme exists."), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1015 (1978); Anderson v. United States, 369 F.2d 11, 15 (8th Cir. 1966) (all instances of illicit conduct need not be proved to sustain a conviction), cert. denied, 386 U.S. 976 (1967).

"All that is required is that [the defendant has] knowingly and willingly participated in the scheme; she need not have performed every key act herself." United States v. Maxwell, 920 F.2d 1028, 1036 (D.C. Cir. 1990). The "evidence need only show that defendant was a 'knowing and active participant' in scheme to defraud and that scheme involved interstate wire communications." Id. (quoting United States v. Wiehoff, 748 F.2d 1158, 1161 (7th Cir. 1984)).

949. Proof of Fraudulent Intent

"The requisite intent under the federal mail and wire fraud statutes may be inferred from the totality of the circumstances and need not be proven by direct evidence." United States v. Alston, 609 F.2d 531, 538 (D.C. Cir. 1979), cert. denied, 445 U.S. 918 (1980). Thus, intent can be inferred from statements and conduct. United States v. Cusino, 694 F.2d 185, 187 (9th Cir. 1982) (citing United States v. Beecroft, 608 F.2d 753, 757 (9th Cir. 1979)), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 932 (1983). Impression testimony, that is, testimony of victims as to how they had been misled by defendants, is admissible to show an intent to defraud. See Phillips v. United States, 356 F.2d 297, 307 (9th Cir. 1965), cert. denied, 384 U.S. 952 (1966). Also consider complaint letters received by defendants as relevant to the issue of intent to defraud. The inference might be drawn that, since the defendant knew victims were being misled by solicitation literature and other representations, the continued operation of the business despite this knowledge showed the existence of a scheme to defraud.

Fraudulent intent is shown if a representation is made with reckless indifference to its truth or falsity. Cusino, 694 F.2d at 187. In addition, "[f]raudulent intent may be inferred from the modus operandi of the scheme." United States v. Reid, 533 F.2d 1255, 1264 n. 34 (D.C. Cir. 1976) ("[T]he purpose of the scheme 'must be to injure, which doubtless may be inferred when the scheme has such effect as a necessary result of carrying it out.") (quoting United States v. Regent Office Supply Co., 421 F.2d 1174, 1180-81 (2d Cir. 1970) (quoting Horman v. United States, 116 F. 350, 352 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 187 U.S. 641 (1902))). "Of course proof that someone was actually victimized by the fraud is good evidence of the schemer's intent." Id. (quoting Regent Office Supply Co., 421 F.2d at 1180-81). In United States v. D'Amato, the court explained the government's burden of proving fraudulent intent as follows:

The scheme to defraud need not have been successful or complete. Therefore, the victims of the scheme need not have been injured. However, the government must show "that some actual harm or injury was contemplated by the schemer." Because the defendant must intend to harm the fraud's victims, "[m]isrepresentations amounting only to a deceit are insufficient to maintain a mail or wire fraud prosecution."

 "Instead, the deceit must be coupled with a contemplated harm to the victim." In many cases, this requirement poses no additional obstacle for the government. When the "necessary result" of the actor's scheme is to injure others, fraudulent intent may be inferred from the scheme itself. Where the scheme does not cause injury to the alleged victim as its necessary result, the government must produce evidence independent of the alleged scheme to show the defendant's fraudulent intent.

39 F.3d 1249, 1257 (2d Cir. 1994) (citations and footnote omitted) (holding that the government failed to produce legally sufficient evidence of criminal intent).

Telemarketing Fraud

The Senior Citizens Against Marketing Scams Act of 1994 provides enhanced penalties for a person convicted of mail or wire fraud in connection with the conduct of telemarketing. See Pub.L. No. 103-322, Title XXV, § 250002, 108 Stat. 2082-83 (codified at 18 U.S.C. § 2326) (additional five-year term of imprisonment; additional ten-year term if the offense victimized ten or more persons over the age of 55 or targeted persons over the age of 55). The Act also provides for mandatory restitution. Id. (codified at 18 U.S.C. § 2327).

966. Venue in Mail Fraud

Generally, 18 U.S.C. § 3237(a) provides that in cases where the offense was begun in one district and completed in another, venue may be laid in any district through which the offense was continued. Section 1341, however, has its own "built-in" venue provisions.

The locus of the offense under section 1341 has been carefully specified; and only the acts of "placing", "taking" and "causing to be delivered" at a specified place have been penalized. Venue should therefore be placed according to the specific prohibitions of section 1341, irrespective of section 3237(a). See Travis v. United States, 364 U.S. 631, 636-37 (1961) ("[V]enue should not be made to depend upon the chance use of the mails, when Congress has so carefully indicated the locus of the crimes."). The locus for mail fraud prosecutions is specifically set forth in section 1341; since Congress has "otherwise expressly provided," section 3237 is inapplicable to mail fraud.

Accordingly, venue must be charged in either

Hagner v. United States, 285 U.S. 427 (1932)); see also United States v. Turley, 891 F.2d 57, 60 (3d Cir. 1989) (government conceded that section 3237 is not applicable to mail fraud).

Several decisions, citing as authority the provisions of section 3237(a), have held that venue for mail fraud prosecutions also lies in any district through which the count letter passed. Section 3237(a) must, however, be read in light of the constitutional requirements and the explicit provisions of section 1341. See USAM 9-43.300 (Statement of Policy concerning Venue in Mail Fraud Prosecutions).

[cited in USAMÂ 9-43.100; USAMÂ 9-43.300]

972. Sufficiency of Indictment—Victims and Loss

Victims of the fraud do not have to be identified by name in the indictment. United States v. Mizyed, 927 F.2d 979 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 500 U.S. 937 (1991). Moreover, actual monetary loss need not be alleged. United States v. Barber, 881 F.2d 345, 348-49 (7th Cir. 1989) ("It is true that the indictment does not allege an actual monetary or economic loss to any insurance company. However, it is not necessary that an indictment charging mail fraud contain such an allegation."), cert. denied, 495 U.S. 922 (1990); see also United States v. Ginsburg, 909 F.2d 982, 988 n. 8 (7th Cir. 1990) ("McNally does not require that actual loss of money or property be alleged in the indictment."); United States v. Bucey, 876 F.2d 1297, 1311 (7th Cir.) ("[S]ince the mail fraud statute punishes the scheme to defraud, this court has reiterated on numerous occasions that the ultimate success of the fraud and the actual defrauding of a victim are not necessary prerequisites to a successful mail fraud prosecution."), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 1004 (1989).