What constitutes mail fraud?

If you are a Missouri resident charged with committing the white collar crime of mail fraud, you may be wondering exactly what it is that federal law enforcement officials believe you did. As FindLaw explains, mail fraud is a federal crime because it involves more than one state. Fraud per se has two prongs: a scheme for obtaining money or other property through false pretenses or a scheme involving counterfeits, such as their sale, distribution, exchange or supply. This scheme must use the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, UPS, or some other commercial interstate carrier in order to constitute mail fraud.

The goods themselves do not need to travel by mail. Sending anything associated with the fraudulent scheme, such as letters, contracts, receipts or any other type of document qualifies for mail fraud. Therefore, if you face mail fraud charges, it means that the federal government believes you used an interstate mail carrier in your scheme to defraud someone. That is what the federal prosecutor will attempt to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Ponzi example

Charles Ponzi, the man from whom the Ponzi scheme gets its name, probably is the best known name associated with mail fraud, even though few people today have any idea who he was. He started a mail-order coupon pyramid scheme in 1919. Within a few months his scheme brought in $1 million each day, but the feds quickly indicted him on 86 counts of mail fraud. He pleaded guilty to one count in November of 1920 and served five years in federal prison.

The Madoff example

Between 1960 and 2008, Bernie Madoff ran the biggest Ponzi scheme ever. A stockbroker and one-time non-executive NASDAQ chairman, Madoff collected his clients’ investment funds, partially paid off other investment clients with them, and also used them to maintain a lavish lifestyle for himself and his family. Based on the amount of money remaining in his 4,800 victims’ accounts as of Nov. 30, 2008, the date of Madoff’s arrest, federal prosecutors estimated that he perpetrated nearly $65 billion in fraud. Ultimately he pleaded guilty to 11 felonies, including securities fraud and mail fraud, and received a 150-year federal prison sentence.

Mail fraud is a very serious crime no matter its scope. If convicted, you face severe penalties, both in terms of incarceration and fines. While this information is not legal advice, it can help you understand what mail fraud is and what you can expect.