Most people think of crime as acts of physical violence or the unlawful taking of property by force, but that is not always the case. There are some criminal offenses that are more complex than a crime like assault or simple theft. Fraud, for example, is a crime characterized by wrongful or criminal deception carried out for the purpose of financial or personal gain.
Unlike a typical theft crime, which generally involves taking something belonging to someone else by force or by stealth, fraud offenses are committed using some sort of deception or misrepresentation of fact. Because of this, such offenses are considered particularly disreputable acts in the eyes of the law.
In fact, as a federal offense, fraud carries serious, potentially life-altering penalties, and if you are facing charges for fraud or if you are under investigation by the federal government, you will need an experienced fraud defense attorney to protect your rights and fight the charges. Contact a Federal lawyer as soon as possible to schedule a consultation with our reputable defense team.
What is Fraud?
The crime of fraud can be found under Title 18 of the U.S. Code, which covers most federal offenses. Title 18, Chapter 47 covers Fraud and False Statements and Chapter 63 covers Mail Fraud and other Fraud Offenses, such as bank fraud, healthcare fraud and securities and commodities fraud. Under 18 U.S. Code § 1341, fraud is defined generally as an artifice or scheme to defraud or obtain property or money from another person, organization, or entity using fraudulent or false representations or pretenses.
Given its broad definition under federal law, fraud encompasses a wide range of criminal acts that are generally carried out for the purpose of depriving another person of property or money that belongs to them. Fraud offenses can be charged either at the state level or the federal level, an important determination that is made based on the nature of the offense. For instance, if the fraud involves a federal agency or property belonging to the federal government, it will be investigated by federal authorities and charged and tried in a federal court.
Fraud vs. Theft
Although fraud is technically a type of theft, fraud and theft crimes differ in several important ways. Theft is a criminal act in which an individual directly obtains property or money from another person by stealth, by force or by threatened force. Fraud, on the other hand, is a more sophisticated offense characterized by a scheme devised with the intent to trick another person into giving away something of value based on false statements or misrepresentations. It is because of this distinction that fraud qualifies as a white-collar crime, unlike other types of theft.
Types of Fraud Offenses
Fraud is a broad term characterized by intentional deception used for the purpose of financial gain and fraudulent acts can occur in finance, investment, insurance and real estate. The following are some common examples of fraud offenses that can result in federal charges.
Mortgage fraud is a criminal offense that involves intentionally omitting, misrepresenting or misstating information on mortgage documents in order to fraudulently obtain a loan or ownership of a home that would not have otherwise occurred. Although there is not a federal statute dealing specifically with mortgage fraud, federal prosecutors can use the federal statutes that deal with conspiracy, false statements, bank fraud, wire fraud and other types of fraud to bring charges of mortgage fraud.
Bankruptcy fraud is any unlawful or fraudulent activity occurring before or during a Chapter 13, Chapter 11 or Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. More specifically, the federal bankruptcy fraud statute, 18 U.S. Code § 157, prohibits “devising or intending to devise a scheme or artifice to defraud and, for purposes of executing or concealing the scheme either (1) filing a bankruptcy petition; (2) filing a document in a bankruptcy proceeding; or (3) making a false statement, claim, or promise (a) in relationship to a bankruptcy proceeding either before or after the filing of the petition; or (b) in relation to a proceeding falsely asserted to be pending under the Bankruptcy Code.”
Immigration fraud is an umbrella term used to describe any type of fraudulent conduct or deceptive acts affecting any part of the immigration process, carried out for the purpose of evading U.S. immigration laws. Under federal law, immigration fraud charges can be brought against any person involved in an immigration services fraud scheme, any person involved in a sham marriage, or any person who forges, alters or sells documents for the purpose of fraudulently obtaining an immigration benefit.
Embezzlement is a federal offense that occurs any time a person entrusted to manage or monitor someone else’s money or property takes the money or property and uses it for his own purposes. According to the Department of Justice, what makes embezzlement different from the crime of larceny is the fact that with embezzlement, “the original taking was lawful, or with the consent of the owner, while in larceny the felonious intent must have existed at the time of the taking.”
Potential Punishment for Federal Fraud Offenses
Fraud is a serious criminal matter and individuals convicted of fraud offenses in federal court can face harsh penalties, possibly including substantial fines, a lengthy federal prison sentence, and often forfeiture of assets. That being said, the specific criminal penalties that could be imposed by the court in your case will vary depending on the specific fraud offense you have been charged with.
As an example, individuals convicted of bankruptcy fraud in federal court could face a maximum prison term of five years and/or a fine of up to $250,000, pursuant to 18 U.S. Code § 157. On the other hand, a violation of 18 U.S. Code § 656, embezzlement of funds valued at more than $1,000 by a bank officer or employee, carries a potential fine of up to one million dollars and/or a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.
Because fraud crimes are often tied to other types of criminal activity, it is not unusual to have multiple fraud charges brought against you. For example, you could be charged with tax fraud, wire fraud and mail fraud for the same criminal conduct. And for each individual charge, you face separate penalties upon conviction. As a financial crime, there are also a number of collateral consequences that can result from a federal fraud conviction. If you are found guilty of fraud, you could face devastating restrictions affecting:
• Your right to vote
• Your right to serve on a federal jury
• Your right to hold federal office or employment
• Any possible association with an FDIC-insured bank
• Participation in federal contracts or programs
• Your immigration status
• Future employment opportunities
• Your professional licensing
Defense Against Fraud Offenses
There is no doubt that being accused of a federal fraud offense can be a devastating and potentially life-changing experience. However, just because the federal government is investigating you for a fraud crime does not mean you are guilty. Even if you have been formally charged with embezzlement, mortgage fraud or another fraud crime and you are headed to trial, you are legally presumed innocent until proven guilty. Under federal law, you cannot be convicted of a criminal offense unless the federal prosecutor can prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. That means the prosecution must show the judge and jury that there is no reasonable explanation for the evidence presented at trial other than that you are guilty of the crime.
A good criminal defense attorney will know which defense strategies to assert in your case to challenge the prosecution’s evidence against you and portray you in a better light. The following are some defense strategies common to federal fraud cases:
• You were entrapped by overzealous federal agents
• You did not intend to deceive anyone
• The evidence against you was seized during an illegal search
• You had permission to perform the alleged criminal acts
• The prosecution does not have enough evidence to prove your guilt
If you are facing fraud charges in federal court, our fraud defense attorneys at Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers will do everything we can to convince the prosecution to reduce the charge or drop the charges altogether. If your case goes to trial, we will stand by your side in court and use every resource at our disposal to help you beat the charges.
Contact the Fraud Defense Attorneys at Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers
Financial crimes are becoming more and common in the world today, as technological advances make it easier to commit and conceal criminal acts, a fact that has made the federal government bear down even harder in its fight against fraud. If you have been arrested or charged with any federal fraud offense, you need to hire an experienced federal defense attorney to help you stand up against the federal government and guide you through the federal criminal process.
The knowledgeable criminal defense attorneys at Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers have more than four decades of combined experience representing clients in criminal cases and our firm can help you obtain the best possible result in your case. Call Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers today to find out what we can do for you.