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Criminal Resource Manual

949. Proof of Fraudulent Intent

"The requisite intent under the federal mail and wire fraud statutes may be inferred from the totality of the circumstances and need not be proven by direct evidence." United States v. Alston, 609 F.2d 531, 538 (D.C. Cir. 1979), cert. denied, 445 U.S. 918 (1980). Thus, intent can be inferred from statements and conduct. United States v. Cusino, 694 F.2d 185, 187 (9th Cir. 1982) (citing United States v. Beecroft, 608 F.2d 753, 757 (9th Cir. 1979)), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 932 (1983). Impression testimony, that is, testimony of victims as to how they had been misled by defendants, is admissible to show an intent to defraud. See Phillips v. United States, 356 F.2d 297, 307 (9th Cir. 1965), cert. denied, 384 U.S. 952 (1966). Also consider complaint letters received by defendants as relevant to the issue of intent to defraud. The inference might be drawn that, since the defendant knew victims were being misled by solicitation literature and other representations, the continued operation of the business despite this knowledge showed the existence of a scheme to defraud.

Fraudulent intent is shown if a representation is made with reckless indifference to its truth or falsity. Cusino, 694 F.2d at 187. In addition, "[f]raudulent intent may be inferred from the modus operandi of the scheme." United States v. Reid, 533 F.2d 1255, 1264 n. 34 (D.C. Cir. 1976) ("[T]he purpose of the scheme 'must be to injure, which doubtless may be inferred when the scheme has such effect as a necessary result of carrying it out.") (quoting United States v. Regent Office Supply Co., 421 F.2d 1174, 1180-81 (2d Cir. 1970) (quoting Horman v. United States, 116 F. 350, 352 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 187 U.S. 641 (1902))). "Of course proof that someone was actually victimized by the fraud is good evidence of the schemer's intent." Id. (quoting Regent Office Supply Co., 421 F.2d at 1180-81). In United States v. D'Amato, the court explained the government's burden of proving fraudulent intent as follows:

The scheme to defraud need not have been successful or complete. Therefore, the victims of the scheme need not have been injured. However, the government must show "that some actual harm or injury was contemplated by the schemer." Because the defendant must intend to harm the fraud's victims, "[m]isrepresentations amounting only to a deceit are insufficient to maintain a mail or wire fraud prosecution." "Instead, the deceit must be coupled with a contemplated harm to the victim." In many cases, this requirement poses no additional obstacle for the government. When the "necessary result" of the actor's scheme is to injure others, fraudulent intent may be inferred from the scheme itself. Where the scheme does not cause injury to the alleged victim as its necessary result, the government must produce evidence independent of the alleged scheme to show the defendant's fraudulent intent.

39 F.3d 1249, 1257 (2d Cir. 1994) (citations and footnote omitted) (holding that the government failed to produce legally sufficient evidence of criminal intent).

[cited in USAM 9-43.100]