One of the most common white-collar crimes in Nevada is wire fraud. Penalties may include lengthy prison terms and astronomical fines.
On this page, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys summarize the federal crime of wire fraud in Nevada. Keep reading to learn about the definition of wire fraud, ways to defend against it, and what punishment a conviction carries.
Wire fraud is just what it sounds like: it is when wire communications are used to carry out a fraudulent act. A typical example is a lottery scam where various people are sent e-mails saying that they must turn over their credit card information before they can collect the prize money. Of course, the victims never receive the money, and the perpetrators run up their credit card bills.
The federal offense of wire fraud in Nevada has five "elements" that the U.S. Attorney's Office would need to prove before a defendant can be convicted of the crime. These elements are the following:
- The defendant planned or carried out a "fraudulent scheme" that causes another person or a business to lose money or property.
- The defendant intended to defraud the victim.
- The defendant's misrepresentations of truth were material to the fraud.
- The defendant relied on wire communications to further the fraudulent scheme.
- The wire communication crossed state lines.1
Scroll down to learn more about these five "elements" of the federal crime of wire fraud in Nevada:
A scheme to defraud
A wire fraud charge alleges that the defendant planned, executed, or attempted to execute a "fraudulent scheme." This scheme can be any act of fraud where the defendant uses electronic communications to effectuate the crime. Beatty NV criminal defense attorney Michael Becker provides an example:
Example: Jacob in Henderson, Nevada, buys ads on Facebook proclaiming to be a foreclosure consultant. Bob in Los Angeles, California, sees the ad and pays Jacob in return for Jacob trying to save his house. Jacob puts the money into his personal account and makes no attempt to delay the foreclosure. If caught, Jacob could be booked at the Henderson NV Detention Center for both the Nevada crime of foreclosure fraud as well as wire fraud for using Facebook.
Note that defendants are often charged with wire fraud in conjunction with other crimes such as foreclosure fraud (like in the above example), mortgage fraud in Nevada, health care fraud in Nevada, and the federal crime of money laundering in Nevada
Wire fraud is a specific intent crime This means that the defendant must have intended to defraud the victim in order for him/her to be found guilty of wire fraud. Tonopah NV criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse explains this concept:
Example: Tony in Carson City airs a regional radio commercial advertising his insurance company. Jeremy in San Francisco hears the commercial and goes to the website mentioned in the commercial. The website causes malware to infect Jeremy's computer, which deposits money into Tony's bank account.
If Jeremy contacts the police, the U.S. Marshals Service would probably book Tony at the Washoe County Detention Center for wire fraud. But if Tony's defense attorney can show that he was genuinely unaware of the malware and never meant to harm anyone, then he should not be held criminally liable.
Consequently, the federal crime of wire fraud is not meant to punish honest mistakes or accidents. Only defendants who are proven to have malicious intent may be convicted of wire fraud in Nevada.
it is not considered wire fraud if the defendant lies about something that is not relevant ("material") to the fraud itself. it is only when the defendant's misrepresentations are part of the reason the defendant fell victim to the fraud that the defendant may be held liable for wire fraud.
In the same way that the federal crime of mail fraud requires that the defendant used the mail to perpetrate fraud, the federal crime of wire fraud requires that the defendant use wire communications to carry out the fraud. Wire communications include:
Note that the wire fraud law is broadly written so as to encompass all future forms of wire communications that have not yet been invented.
Also note that the actual content of the wire communications does not have to be fraudulent for the defendant to be criminally liable for wire fraud. Rather, the defendant merely needs to have used wire communications in some large or small way to carry out the fraud.
Nevada Federal Court does not have jurisdiction over wire fraud cases unless the wire communication crosses state lines or international lines. For example, a fraud perpetrated over a television commercial aired only in Nevada could not be litigated in federal court. Rather, it would be handled in state court.
There are several possible strategies to defend against allegations of wire fraud in Nevada. Obviously, which ones are most effective turns on the specifics of the individual cases. Below are three common defenses to the federal offense of wire fraud:
- Lack of evidence. The prosecution in any criminal case bears the burden to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt before the court can convict him/her. Therefore the defense attorney would conduct a thorough investigation to try to show the court that there is insufficient evidence to sustain a criminal conviction for wire fraud.
- Lack of fraudulent intent. A defendant should not be convicted of wire fraud if he/she behaved in good faith and did not mean to injure anyone. As long as the prosecution cannot prove to the court that the defendant had fraudulent intent, then he/she should not be held criminally liable.
- Lack of proper police procedure. Sometimes an entire criminal case can be thrown out based on police misconduct. If the cops may have executed an illegal search to procure evidence in a wire fraud matter, then the defense attorney would file with the court a "Nevada motion to suppress evidence". If the judge then grants the motion and throws out all the illegally-procured evidence, then the government may dismiss the whole case because there is not enough remaining evidence to sustain a conviction.
The maximum sentence for a conviction of the federal crime of wire fraud in Nevada is:
- Twenty years in Federal Prison, and/or
- A fine (which the judge determines depending on the seriousness of the case)
However, the maximum sentence is increased if the defendant allegedly defrauded a financial institution or if the fraud involved federal disaster relief. The judge may impose:
- Up to thirty years in Federal Prison, and/or
- Up to one million dollars in fines plus restitution
Charged? Call us . . . .
If you have been arrested for violating federal wire fraud law in Nevada, contact our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free meeting. We will do everything to negotiate and litigate the matter in an attempt to achieve the best possible resolution for your case. If you were arrested in California, please visit our page on federal wire fraud laws in California.
Whoever, having devised or intending to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises, transmits or causes to be transmitted by means of wire, radio, or television communication in interstate or foreign commerce, any writings, signs, signals, pictures, or sounds for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both. If the violation occurs in relation to, or involving any benefit authorized, transported, transmitted, transferred, disbursed, or paid in connection with, a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency (as those terms are defined in section 102 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5122)), or affects a financial institution, such person shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both.