Although Congress originally enacted the mail fraud statute to secure the integ-
rity of the United States Postal Service (“USPS”),
the mail and wire fraud statutes
are now applied to several modes of communication.
The statutes also provide
federal courts with jurisdiction over a broad array of frauds.
Mail and wire fraud
are predicate felonies under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations
Act (“RICO”) and are specified as unlawful activity for purposes of the federal
money laundering statutes.
This Article provides an overview of the prosecution of offenses under the fed-
eral mail and wire fraud statutes. Section II of this Article lists and analyzes the
elements of a mail or wire fraud offense. Section III examines the available
defenses. Finally, Section IV addresses sentencing issues that relate to convictions
under the mail and wire fraud statutes.
II. ELEMENTS OF THE OFFENSE
For a mail or wire fraud offense, the government must show beyond a reasona-
ble doubt that the defendant perpetrated a scheme (A) to defraud by means of a ma-
terial deception; (B) with the intent to defraud; (C) while using the mails, private
commercial carriers, and/or wires in furtherance of that scheme; (D) that did result
or would have resulted in the loss of money or property or the deprivation of honest
wire fraud statues “are increasingly used effectively to convict and punish for the substantive fraud, and that the
use of mails or wires is merely a ‘jurisdictional hook’”).
6. See, e.g.
, Parr v. United States, 363 U.S. 370
, 389 (1960) (stating the mail fraud statute’s “purpose was ‘to
prevent the post office from being used to carry [fraudulent schemes] into effect’” (quoting Durland v. United
7. See infra Section II.C. (discussing application of the wire fraud statute to new modes of communication).
8. See Sawyer, 85 F.3d at 723 n.5 (referring to mailing element as “hook” to secure federal jurisdiction);
Geraldine Szott Moohr, Mail Fraud Meets Criminal Theory, 67 U. CIN. L. REV. 1, 7 nn.25–29 (1998) (discussing
jurisdictional effect of mailing element); see also
United States v. Riley, 621 F.3d 312
, 328 (3d Cir. 2010)
(affirming mail fraud convictions in relation to former mayor’s scheme to convey city-owned land); United
States v. Sharapka, 526 F.3d 58
, 62 (1st Cir. 2008) (upholding sentence where defendant was convicted of
counterfeiting and mail fraud in stolen credit card scheme), vacated on other grounds, No. 05-10004-PBS, 2011
WL 2471289 (D. Mass. June 17, 2011); United States v. Zichettello, 208 F.3d 72
, 99–100 (2d Cir. 2000)
(affirming multi-defendant convictions on counts including: (i) mail fraud in connection with bribery and
(ii) wire fraud in connection with campaign finance scheme); Tony Perry, Ex-Cal State San Marcos Student Gets
Prison For Trying to Rig Election, L.A. TIMES (July 15, 2013, 12:00 AM), http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/
la-me-ln-exstudent-prison-200130715,0,3461968.story#axzz2kYzaM9ap (reporting on college student convicted
of wire fraud after using a computer program to steal other students’ credentials to win campus election).
Cir. 2011) (affirming defendant’s conviction for wire fraud based on money laundering scheme); United States v.
Bradley, 644 F.3d 1213
, 1242–44 (11th Cir. 2011) (affirming RICO conviction based on mail and wire fraud);
United States v. Goldin Indus., Inc., 219 F.3d 1271
, 1274 (11th Cir. 2000) (defining racketeering activity as the
commission of certain federal crimes, including mail fraud, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1341
, 208 F.3d
at 79 (affirming multi-defendant convictions on counts including: (i) mail fraud in connection with monthly
bribes related to conspiracy to violate RICO and (ii) wire fraud in connection with campaign finance scheme).
For a discussion of liability under the RICO or money laundering statutes, see the Racketeer Influenced and
Corrupt Organizations and Money Laundering Articles in this Issue.
1202 AMERICAN CRIMINAL LAW REVIEW [Vol. 58:1201