Mail Fraud


Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Acronyms, Wikipedia.

Mail Fraud

A crime in which the perpetrator develops a scheme using the mails to defraud another of money or property. This crime specifically requires the intent to defraud, and is a federal offense governed by section 1341 of title 18 of the U.S. Code. The mail fraud statute was first enacted in 1872 to prohibit illicit mailings with the Postal Service (formerly the Post Office) for the purpose of executing a fraudulent scheme.

Initially, courts strictly followed the mail Fraud statute's language and interpreted it narrowly. The early decisions required a connection between the fraudulent scheme and the misuse of the mails for a violation of the mail fraud statute. Since its enactment, application of the statute has evolved to include dishonest and fraudulent activities with only a tangential relationship to the mails.

Punishment for a conviction under the mail fraud statute is a fine or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both. If, however, the violation affects a financial institution, the punishment is more severe: the statute provides that "the person shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both."

Both the Supreme Court and Congress have consistently broadened the mail fraud statute since its enactment. Prior to a 1909 amendment, a violation of the mail fraud statute required proof, among other requirements, of either opening or intending to open correspondence or communication with another person. In 1909 Congress eliminated this requirement and replaced it with the language that the mails be used "for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice or attempting so to do." This amendment followed the Supreme Court's decision in Durland v. United States, 161 U.S. 306, 16 S. Ct. 508, 40 L. Ed. 709 (1896), which held that the mailing only needed to "assist" in the completion of the fraud. Although this amendment was the last significant change until 1988, the Supreme Court has struggled with the relationship between the mailing element and the execution of the fraud.

The Court's struggle with this relationship is illustrated by two of its decisions: United States v. Maze, 414 U.S. 395, 94 S. Ct. 645, 38 L. Ed. 2d 603 (1974), and Schmuck v. United States, 489 U.S. 705, 109 S. Ct. 1443, 103 L. Ed. 2d 734 (1989). In Maze, the defendant stole his room-mate's credit card and car and signed his room-mate's name to the charge vouchers to obtain food and lodging. The merchants mailed the invoices to a bank in Louisville, Kentucky. The Supreme Court held that this did not fall within the scope of the mail fraud statute because the mailings did not perpetuate the fraud. The Court held that the scheme did not depend on the mailings and that the fraud was completed once the defendant signed the vouchers. The Court refused to interpret the statute as merely a jurisdictional requirement and stated that "Congress could have drafted the mail fraud statute so as to require only that the mails be in fact used as a result of the fraudulent scheme."

However, in Schmuck, the Court did expand the mail fraud statute. In Schmuck, the defendant sold used cars to auto dealers in which he had rolled back the odometers to inflate the vehicles' value. The dealers sent title application forms to the state department of transportation to register the cars after the dealers sold them to individual purchasers. The Court held that the sale of the vehicles depended on the transfer of title and that, although the mailing of the registration may not have contributed directly to the scheme, it was necessary for the passage of title and perpetuation of the scheme.

In recent years Congress has amended the mail fraud statute twice. In 1988 Congress added section 1346, which states that the term "scheme to defraud" includes a scheme to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services. In 1994 Congress expanded the use of the mails to include any parcel that is "sent or delivered by a private or commercial interstate carrier." As a result of these amendments, the mail fraud statute has become a broad act for prosecution of dishonest and fraudulent activities, as long as those crimes involve the mails or an interstate carrier.

Further readings

Brogan-Johnson, Rebecca L. 2001. "Defining 'Property' Under the Mail Fraud Statute." Loyola Law Review 47 (summer): 865–883.

Henning, Peter J. 1995. "Maybe It Should Just Be Called Federal Fraud: The Changing Nature of the Mail Fraud Statute." Boston College Law Review 36.

Hurson, Daniel W. 2001. "Mail Fraud, the Intangible Rights Doctrine, and the Infusion of State Law: a Bermuda Triangle of Sorts." Houston Law Review 38 (spring): 297–334.

Podgor, Ellen S. 1992. "Mail Fraud: Opening Letters." South Carolina Law Review 43.

References in periodicals archive ?
Count one of the indictment alleging mail fraud states Farah "knowingly and willfully devised a scheme and artifice" to send through the U.S.
Stanford's former finance chief, James Davis, admitted conspiracy to commit mail, wire and securities fraud; mail fraud and conspiracy to obstruct a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation.
On March 22, 2005, Del Pino was suspended after being convicted of two federal felonies--tax evasion and mail fraud. On April 19, 2007, Del Pino was suspended for three years nunc pro tunc April 22, 2005, due to the aforementioned felonies.
They began building a prosecution on federal felony mail fraud. The investigation was aided by the Office of the New York State Workers' Compensation Board Fraud Inspector General and the New York State Insurance Department Frauds Bureau.
McClain pleaded not guilty to the money laundering, mail fraud, conspiracy and bribery charges filed against him and a minister he helped obtain the grants.
Investigators in the US claim the pair sold fake shares in 50 dormant firms and US officials say they have now been charged with money laundering, mail fraud and securities fraud.
Radler reached a plea bargain with the feds in which he is to be sentenced to 29 months in jail, probably to be served in his native Canada, in exchange for a guilty plea to a single count of mail fraud and his testimony, earlier this year, as the star witness against Black.
Court papers before magistrates in Norfolk, Virginia, said: "The defendant, along with his co-conspirator, was a leader in an ongoing criminal enterprise that involved mail fraud and wire fraud as well as the international and domestic transfers of large sums of money that resulted from the fraudulent activities.
He was not guilty of 17 counts of mail fraud involving no-bid contracts.
Later that day they appeared before a judge at US District Court where they were charged with 11 counts of mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
Political consultant and former state lottery commissioner Kevin Geddings could face several years in prison following his conviction by a federal jury on five counts of mail fraud. Geddings created the Georgia redneck "Bubba" character that helped elect Jim Hodges as South Carolina governor and convinced voters there to approve a lottery.