Mail fraud is an act of fraud using the U.S. Postal Service, such as making false representations through the mail to obtain an economic advantage. Black's Law Dictionary 687 (8th ed. 2005) It is substantially similar to wire fraud, and like the Supreme Court of the United States warning in Pasquantino v. United States, 125 S. Ct. 1766, 1784 (2005) (Ginsburg, J. dissenting) concerning an overbroad interpretation of the wire fraud statute, the mail fraud statute should be narrowly construed in order to avoid an extension of its applicability beyond the limits envisioned by Congress. See United States v. Murphy, 323 F.3d 102, 116 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing McNally v. United States, 483 U.S. 350, 360 (1987) superseded on other grounds by 18 U.S.C. § 1346 (2005) (schemes "to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services" are proscribed)).
Nonetheless, the mail fraud statutes, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341 and 1342, have been applied in a wide variety of cases, often in conjunction with other criminal statutes. See Neder v. United States, 527 U.S. 1 (1999) (defendant charged with wire fraud, mail fraud, and bank fraud violations); United States v. Haber, 251 F.3d 881 (10th Cir. 2001) (defendant charged with mail fraud and wire fraud); United States v. Autuori, 212 F.3d 105 (2d Cir. 2000) (defendant charged with wire fraud and mail fraud violations); United States v. Martin, 195 F.3d 961 (7th Cir. 1999) (defendant charged with mail fraud and bribery of a public official); United States v. George, 477 F.2d 508 (7th Cir. 1973) (defendant charged with mail fraud in kickback scheme for depriving manufacturer of loyalty and honesty).
18 U.S.C. § 1341 (2007).
The CrimeSection 1341 is a rather dense and convoluted statute. Under this section, it is a crime
for a person who has devised or intends to devise any scheme or artifice
to defraud, or
the Environmental Protection Agency; see United States v. White, 270 F.3d 356 (6th Cir. 2001);
to sell, dispose of, loan, exchange, alter, give away, distribute, supply, or furnish or procure for unlawful use any
counterfeit or spurious coin, obligation, security, or other article, or
anything represented to be or intimated or held out to be such counterfeit or spurious article,
for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice,
to place in any post office or authorized depository for mail matter,
any matter or thing whatever to be sent or delivered by the Postal Service, or
to deposit or cause to be deposited any matter or thing whatever to be sent or delivered by any private or commercial interstate carrier, or
to take or receive therefrom, any such matter or thing, or
to knowingly cause to be delivered by mail or such carrier according to the direction thereon, or
at the place at which it is directed to be delivered by the person to whom it is addressed,
any such matter or thing, 18 U.S.C. § 1341 (2007).
In many ways, it is just simpler to realize that mail fraud is primarily devising a scheme or artifice to defraud and then using the nation's mail system to carry that scheme out.
The punishment under section 1341 is
a fine, imprisonment for not more than 20 years, or both.
If the violation affects a financial institution, the punishment is
a fine of not more than $ 1,000,000, imprisonment for not more than 30 years, or both. 18 U.S.C. § 1341 (2007).
Case Law Interpreting Section 1341
Furthermore, a number of courts require a specific intent to defraud. See United States v. Tarallo, 380 F.3d 1174, 1181 (9th Cir. 2004). The government, however, does not need to show intent to cause harm or injury; all that is required is simply an intent to defraud, which the government can establish in a number of manners. See United States v. Welch, 327 F.3d 1081, 1105 (10th Cir. 2003). Because direct proof of fraudulent intent is often unavailable, "courts have long permitted fact finders to rely on a variety of circumstantial evidence, including evidence of actual or contemplated harm, to infer such intent." Id. Reckless indifference to the truth of a representation may establish the intent to defraud. Id.
United States v. Frank,
354 F.3d 910 (8th Cir. 2004).One of the defendants in this case were convicted on twenty-two counts of mail fraud. The court gives a slightly different, but still acceptable, statement of the required elements for conviction under section 1341. "These convictions require proof that [the defendant] voluntarily and intentionally devised or participated in a scheme to defraud the United States by concealing his assets, that he entered into the scheme with the intent to defraud, that he knew it was reasonably foreseeable that the mails would be used, and that he used the mails in furtherance of the scheme." Frank at 916. Seventeen of the defendant's mail fraud counts charged him with executing a scheme to defraud the United States, inhibiting its ability to collect on a financial judgment against the defendant, by mailing the probation office financial reports which did not accurately reflect his assets or income. Id. at 917. The defendant reported "virtually no assets" but the government had evidence that he actually had significant assets and income. Id. Because he used the mails to execute this scheme, the evidence "was sufficient to sustain [the defendant's] conviction" on those counts. Id. Three additional counts of mail fraud charged the defendant with mail fraud cased upon letters he sent to the United States Attorney's Office in which he asserted that a man, who allegedly owed the defendant a debt, did not have the money to pay the defendant. Id. However, the government introduced evidence that the defendant actually purchased vehicles with the money he allegedly lent the other man. Id. Again, by using the mails to defraud the United States-in this instance, the government, based on the letters sent by the defendant, "pursued the wrong avenue of collection and was impeded in its ability to garnish his income"-the court determined that the evidence showed mail fraud. Id. The final two mail fraud counts relate to the use of the mail to transfer titles for two vehicles which the defendant acquired under fraudulent pretenses. The court found that the elements of wire fraud had been met in these instances as well. Id. at 917-18.
18 U.S.C. § 1342 (2007).
The CrimeSection 1342 is a much simpler statute, and is only somewhat related to the general notion of "mail fraud," but as concerns about identity theft mount, it is important to be aware of section 1342.
Under section 1342 it is a crime for a person
for the purpose ofconducting, promoting, or carrying on by means of the Postal Service, any scheme or device proscribed by section 1341, or any other unlawful business
to use or assume, or request to be addressed by
any fictitious, false, or assumed title, name or address or name other than his own proper name, or
to take or receive from any post office or authorized depository or mail matter
any letter, postal card, package, or other mail matter addressed to any such fictitious name or address or to any name or address not his own. 18 U.S.C. § 1342 (2007).
The PunishmentThe punishment for a violation of section 1342 is
a fine, imprisonment for not more than five years, or both. 18 U.S.C. § 1342 (2007).
Case Law Interpreting Section 1342Because section 1342 incorporates by reference section 1341, a conviction for section 1342 requires proof of a violation of section 1341. United States v. Scott, 326 F. Supp. 272, 275 (W.D. Pa. 1972).
18 U.S.C. § 1346 (2007).
Section 1346 merely states that the term "scheme or artifice to defraud" includes a scheme or artifice to defraud another of the intangible right of honest services. Section 1346 was enacted to counter the Supreme Court's decision in McNally v. United States, 483 U.S. 350, 360 (1987). See United States v. Sawyer, 239 F.3d 31, 39 (1st Cir. 2001).
According to United states v. Rybicki, 287 F.3d 257 (2d Cir. 2002), the elements necessary to establish the offense of honest services fraud are:
a scheme or artifice to defraud
for the purposes of depriving another of the intangible right of honest services
where it is reasonably foreseeable that the scheme could cause some economic or pecuniary harm to the victim that is more than de minimis and
use of the mails or wires in furtherance of the scheme. Rybicki at 266.
The enactment of section 1346 has greatly complicated statutory analysis of the mail fraud statute. "While the legislative history of § 1346 seems to indicate an intention to resurrect the pre-McNally case law relating to the deprivation of intangible rights by use of the mails," some case law has determined that "pre-McNally cases construing the prior statute are not binding, and that the new offense was defined by statute, ¼ not by pre[-]McNally judicial decisions." United States v. Adler, 274 F. Supp. 2d 583, 586 (S.D.N.Y. 2003). In short, the effect of section 1346 remains to be seen, but there is general acceptance of the notion that "convictions under § 1346 that involved schemes ¼ in which the defendant breached or induced the breach of a duty owed by an employee or agent to his employer or principal that was enforceable by an action at tort" must be upheld. Rybicki at 264.