Federal prosecutors may charge you with wire fraud when they allege you used a communications device to transmit information across state lines as part of a scheme to defraud someone of property. Sometimes, prosecutors use wire fraud charges as a fallback when they encounter difficulties proving the elements of more specific fraud crimes.
If convicted, a judge may sentence you up to 20 years in prison for each count; in certain cases, this term can go up to 30 years. The penalties may also include substantial fines. For this reason, if you learn federal authorities are investigating you, you should immediately contact a knowledgeable attorney. Do not talk to investigators before you speak with your lawyer; any information you volunteer can later come back to haunt you.
Intent to defraud of property
The first thing prosecutors will have to prove is that you intended to commit fraud in order to deprive a person or entity of property. In other words, they will need to show that you purposely misrepresented facts in order to induce someone to give up money or other assets. They do not have to prove that you actually received the money; just that you tried to. Potential defenses could include showing you acted in good faith and really believed the truth of your statements, or that you had no intent of receiving financial gain.
Use of interstate communications
The other part of the prosecution's case will involve proving that you used an interstate communications device to make the fraudulent statements. Devices may include cell phones, computers, landlines and fax machines. Statements may be written or verbal, so both phone conversations and emails may qualify.
If you have concerns about a potential or pending investigation, you should consult an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible. Even if you believe it is all a misunderstanding that will go away if you give investigators information, matters are rarely that simple. Your lawyer can evaluate your risk and advise you as to the optimal course of action.