Understanding Conspiracy to Defraud the United States: 18 U.S.C § 371

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The Ins and Outs of Conspiracy to Defraud the United States: Exploring 18 U.S.C § 371

Conspiracies are not just the stuff of thriller movies or detective novels; they are real and can have severe repercussions. One such conspiracy, which can have dire consequences, is a conspiracy to defraud the United States. Among the various federal criminal offenses, the law treats conspiracy to defraud the United States as a particularly serious crime, even though it is a white-collar crime. In this article, we'll take a closer look at the specifics of this crime: what it means, how it is defined under federal law, what the penalties are, and how a federal defense attorney can help you if you are accused of this crime.

What Is Conspiracy to Defraud the United States?

The statute defining Conspiracy to defraud the United States is found at 18 U.S.C § 371. The law prohibits two or more individuals from conspiring to commit any offense against the United States or any agency thereof in any manner or form. The offense at issue must involve deceit or dishonesty or interfere with the functioning of a government agency, such as the Department of Justice, the Internal Revenue Service, or the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

What is meant by defraud in the context of this law? Defrauding the United States refers to cheating, evading, or otherwise obstructing lawful government functions by trick, deceit, dishonesty, corruption, and betrayal of trust. The offense can arise in a variety of situations, such as bribery, embezzlement, perjury, obstruction of justice, and lying to federal investigators.

How Does the Law Define Conspiracy?

Conspiracy, in general, involves an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime. The specific crime at issue in Section 371 is a conspiracy to defraud the United States. Conspiracy to defraud the United States has two elements that must both be present for the crime to occur:

  • Two or more persons must agree to commit a crime against the United States, and
  • One of the conspirators must commit an overt act in furtherance of the agreement

It's worth noting that an overt act does not have to be criminal by itself, nor does it have to be completed successfully. In other words, the conspiracy is the crime, not the underlying offense that the conspirators agreed to commit. For example, suppose two individuals agree to commit a fraud scheme aimed at cheating the government out of tax revenues. If one of them makes a phone call to gather additional information about the scheme, that phone call could satisfy the overt act requirement, even if the fraud scheme is never executed.

How Can You Defraud the US?

Some of the ways you can defraud the United States, and thereby engage in a conspiracy to defraud, include:

  • Lying to federal authorities during an investigation
  • Obstructing a criminal investigation
  • Evasion or underpayment of taxes
  • Bribery of a government official
  • Embezzlement of government funds
  • False statements on government documents
  • Counterfeiting of government documents

Any of these acts performed as part of an agreement with one or more people to defraud the government could result in a court finding you guilty of a conspiracy to defraud the United States.

What are the Possible Penalties?

If you're found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States, you can face significant penalties, including:

  • Imprisonment for up to five years
  • Fines of up to $250,000
  • Restitution to the government
  • Probation or supervised release upon release from prison

These penalties can be harsher for specific conspiracies to defraud, such as tax fraud, healthcare fraud, or wire fraud, among others.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between conspiracy and an attempt to defraud the United States?

In general, conspiracy requires an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime, whereas an attempt to defraud requires a substantial step towards committing the crime, beyond mere planning or preparation. Conspiracy is the easier of the two crimes to prove because it does not require a completed crime; instead, it only requires an agreement plus an overt act in furtherance of that agreement.

Can I be charged with both conspiracy and the underlying crime?

Yes, it is possible to be charged with both conspiracy and the underlying crime, such as tax fraud or wire fraud. However, the prosecutors must prove that both crimes took place; otherwise, the defendant could only be found guilty of one of the two charges.

What should I do if I'm charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States?

The first step is to speak with a federal criminal defense attorney with experience in this type of case. A good attorney can advise you of your rights and defend you against the charges in court. A federal defense attorney can also help you negotiate with the government, such as plea bargaining or seeking a favorable sentence.

Recent Arizona Case Involving Federal Conspiracy to Defraud

The recent case United States v. Liva involved a conspiracy to defraud the United States by embezzling funds from a housing development project. The project, which was funded by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, aimed to build affordable housing units for low-income families.

The defendant, Mr. Liva, was the project's developer and conspired with several other individuals to embezzle money by submitting false invoices and seeking reimbursement for work that was either not performed or not done correctly. Liva was charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, wire fraud, and money laundering, among other charges. Liva was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay $4 million in restitution, a particularly harsh punishment, given the gravity of the crime and the resulting harm to the community.

How a Federal Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

If you're being charged with a conspiracy to defraud the United States, the best way to protect yourself is to hire an experienced federal criminal defense attorney. An experienced attorney can help in several ways, including:

  • Advising you of your rights throughout the process, including during questioning and plea negotiations
  • Helping you understand the charges against you, including any underlying criminal acts
  • Advocating for you in court by arguing about the evidence and any legal technicalities that could benefit your case
  • Seeking a favorable plea bargain or sentence if a trial is not in your best interests

So, if you're facing any legal trouble, reach out to an expert and fight the battle effectively.

Conspiracy,18-Conspiracy to Defraud the United States: 18 U.S.C § 371