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Criminal Resource Manual

942. The Scheme and Artifice to Defraud

The wire fraud statute was patterned after the mail fraud statutes. United States v. Lemon, 941 F.2d 309, 316 (5th Cir. 1991); United States v. Castillo, 829 F.2d 1194, 1198 (1st Cir. 1987). Thus, the same principles apply in defining "scheme to defraud" for mail and wire fraud prosecutions. See Carpenter v. United States, 484 U.S. 19, 25 n. 6 (1987) ("The mail and wire fraud statutes share the same language in relevant part, and accordingly we apply the same analysis to both sets of offenses here."); United States v. Lemire, 720 F.2d 1327, 1334-35 n. 6 (D.C. Cir. 1983) ("The requisite elements of 'scheme to defraud' under the wire fraud statute [§ 1343] and the mail fraud statute [§ 1341], are identical. Thus, cases construing mail fraud apply to the wire fraud statute as well."), cert. denied, 467 U.S. 1226 (1984).

The mail fraud and wire fraud statutes do not define the terms "scheme" or "artifice" and the courts have traditionally been reluctant to offer definitions of either term except in the broadest and most general terms. Lemire, 720 F.2d at 1335 ("Congress did not define 'scheme or artifice to defraud' when it first coined that phrase, nor has it since. Instead that expression has taken on its present meaning from 111 years of case law.").

The fraudulent aspect of the scheme to defraud is to be measured by nontechnical standards and is not restricted by any common-law definition of false pretenses. "[T]he words 'to defraud' in the mail fraud statute have the 'common understanding' of '"wrongdoing one in his property rights by dishonest methods or schemes," and "usually signify the deprivation of something of value by trick, chicane, or overreaching."'" Carpenter, 484 U.S. at 27 (quoting McNally v. United States, 483 U.S. 350, 358 (1987) (quoting Hammerschmidt v. United States, 265 U.S. 182, 188 (1924))). "The concept of 'fraud' includes the act of embezzlement, which is '"the fraudulent appropriation to one's own use of the money or goods entrusted to one's own care by another."'" Id. (quoting Grin v. Shine, 187 U.S. 181, 189 (1902)).

[cited in USAM 9-43.100]