Federal law and the broad use of mail and wire fraud statutes, P.1

Florida readers have all heard about the ongoing legal issues surrounding faulty ignition switches in some General Motors vehicles, a problem which has cause over 100 deaths. Much of the litigation the company has faced in connection with the defect has involved product liability issues, but prosecutors are now apparently considering whether to charge GM under federal mail and wire fraud statutes.

The potential fraud charges are based on the fact that GM may have acted fraudulently in making statements concerning the faulty switch issue and in hiding information about the problem. One question that comes up for those not familiar with federal law is: how exactly could federal and wire fraud statutes apply in the GM case? The fact is that mail and wire fraud statutes are quite adaptable to a number of different offenses, and can often be used in conjunction with other charges to increase penalties for defendants. 

Because of the adaptability of federal mail and wire fraud statues, they can potentially be used in any transaction involving mail, telephone, cell phone, email other electronic communications, provided the underlying communication meets the definition of fraud.

Generally speaking, the elements of mail and wire fraud include:

  • Use of mail or electronic communications in furtherance of;
  • a scheme to defraud;
  • with the intent to deprive another;
  • by means of material deception;
  • of proper or honest services.

The ability of prosecutors to use these statutes so broadly has not gone without criticism. In our next post, we’ll take a closer look at this issue and the importance of working with an experienced criminal defense attorney when facing these charges.

Sources: Nasdaq.com, “Prosecutors Broadly Use Mail-Fraud, Wire-Fraud Statutes,” Christopher M. Matthews, June 9, 2015.

Congressional Research Service, “Mail and Wire Fraud: A Brief Overview of Federal Criminal Law,” Charles Doyle, July 21, 2011. 

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