U.S, attorneys in New York and around the country prosecute a large number of mail fraud cases. Federal authorities usually find it easy to claim jurisdiction when mail fraud is alleged because those who commit the crime often use the U.S. Post Office or one of the many private sector interstate carriers. Individuals may face mail fraud charges if they send communications, contracts or receipts through the mail in furtherance of a scheme to gain money through deception or deal in counterfeit goods.
Federal prosecutors can take control of mail fraud cases because the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government jurisdiction when crimes take place in multiple states. U.S. attorneys like these cases because the sequence of events and the sums involved can often be established with documents alone. The maximum penalty for mail fraud is usually 20 years in prison, but judges can hand down sentences of up to 30 years when the fraud endangers a financial institution or is connected to a major emergency or disaster.
One of the nation’s most famous mail fraud cases was prosecuted in 1920. Charles Ponzi admitted to making up to $1 million a day in 1919 by sending investment offers through the mail. He was arrested with great fanfare and charged with 86 counts of mail fraud. He later agreed to plead guilty to a single count of mail fraud. His custodial sentence was five years.
The Ponzi prosecution provides an insight into how the criminal justice system often works. Defendants may face a raft of initial charges that are then used as bargaining chips by prosecutors. Criminal defense attorneys with plea bargaining experience would likely negotiate based on the evidence and not the charges, and attorneys have an ethical duty to try to get the best deal possible for their clients.