Court Extends Reach of Wire Fraud Law

The Tenth Circuit recently upheld a conviction of a man who practiced law without a license for several years. The man, Howard O. Kieffer never went to law school and never earned his license. He was convicted in 2010 for mail fraud and making false statements. He was also convicted in Colorado for wire fraud.

The appeals court in Kieffer’s case upheld the wire fraud charges, due to Kieffer’s representations that he was authorized to practice law. The court said that the presence of readers in different states were enough to make Kiefer’s web postings subject to federal law. This is important because travelling across state lines makes an offense a federal crime rather than a state offense.

The court’s previous stance was that one person’s use of the internet alone is not enough to show for the purposes of wire fraud law that an item traveled across state lines.

This new ruling in Keiffer makes it possible that individuals outside of the U.S. could be charged for crimes in the U.S. just by putting something on the internet.

This is potentially troubling because wire fraud is commonly used as a catch all fraud in case a person is not convicted of the primary charge. Wire fraud is not limited to wiring money, it involves websites like Kieffer’s case and also email, phone calls, text messages,  or any other type of electronic communication.

Allowing any false claim on the internet could mean many more criminal cases in federal court, with indictments of persons at home and abroad.

 

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