I was in need of money and told people I was raising money for a charity, but I plan to keep the money for myself instead of actually making the donation. Can I be charged with a crime?
The crime of wire fraud generally involves obtaining money, property, services, or something of value under false pretenses using electronic means of communication, including the internet, emails, text messages, social media websites, or wire transfers. Mail fraud is a similar offense, only the communications occur through the United States Postal Service or other carriers.
Wire fraud is illegal under both federal and Florida law. The Florida Communications Fraud Act criminalizes schemes to defraud, as described above. Under Florida law, a scheme to defraud is defined as “a systematic, ongoing course of conduct with intent to defraud one or more persons, or with intent to obtain property from one or more persons by false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises or willful misrepresentations of a future act.” In the situation described above, asking people for money for a charity while knowing that the money would not actually be turned over to that charity and instead used for other purposes would be an intentional scheme to defraud.
If the aggregate value of what is obtained is $50,000 or more, you can be charged with a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000. If the aggregate value is $20,000 or more, but less than $50,000, you can be charged with a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000. If the aggregate value is less than $20,000 but more than $300 you can be charged with a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $5,000. If the value is below $300 you can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a year imprisonment and fines. As you can see, any amount over $300 obtained through fraudulent means would result in felony charges potentially punishable by time in prison and steep fines.
Under both the federal and Florida law, wire fraud requires the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the individual charged acted with the intent to defraud. While intent can be inferred from circumstantial evidence, this can be a difficult element of the crime to prove, and lack of intent can be a valid defense to fraud charges.
Given the complexity of wire fraud cases, anyone facing these charges should consult with an experienced attorney to determine their best course of action.