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2432. Coercive Or Fraudulent Interference With ERISA Rights -- 29 U.S.C. 1141

Title 29 U.S.C. § 1141 states:

It shall be unlawful for any person through the use of fraud, force, violence, or threat of the use of force or violence, to restrain, coerce, intimidate, or attempt to restrain, coerce, or intimidate any participant or beneficiary for the purpose of interfering with or preventing the exercise of any right to which he is or may become entitled under the plan, this title, section 3001, or the Welfare and Pension Plans Disclosure Act. Any person who willfully violates this section shall be fined $10,000 or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both. The amount of fine is governed by 18 U.S.C. § 3571. The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines address 29 U.S.C. § 1141 under the guidelines for "Fraud and Deceit" (U.S.S.G. § 2F1.1) or for "Extortion by Force or Threat of Injury or Serious Damage (U.S.S.G. § 2B3.2).

In order to establish a violation of 29 U.S.C. § 1141, the government must allege and prove the following essential elements:

  1. The jurisdictional entity involved is an employee benefit plan within the meaning of title I of ERISA (29 U.S.C. §§ 1001 et. seq.).

    Employee benefit plan is defined as an employee pension benefit plan or an employee welfare benefit plan. 29 U.S.C. § 1002(1), (2), and (3).

  2. The victim is a participant or beneficiary as defined in the statute. "Participant" and "Beneficiary" are defined at 3(7) and 3(8)(29 U.S.C. §  1002).
  3. The violator can be any person who uses fraud, force, violence, or threats of force or violence.
  4. The violator restrained, coerced, or intimidated, or attempted to restrain, coerce, or intimidate, a participant or beneficiary for purposes of interfering with their protected rights.
  5. Protected rights include any right to which a participant or beneficiary is or may become entitled to under the plan, Title I of ERISA, 29 U.S.C.§  1201 (relating to tax qualification of the plan), or the WPPDA (predecessor statute to ERISA).
  6. The violator acted WILLFULLY.

For example, Section 1141 would reach the use of deception directed at misleading a welfare plan beneficiary as to the amount of health benefits owed to the beneficiary under the terms of the plan or at misleading a pension plan participant as to the amount of retirement benefits to which he would become entitled under the plan upon his retirement.

[cited in JM 9-135.010]

Updated January 17, 2020