Most of us are familiar with the story of 41-year-old (name withheld for privacy) of San Francisco, who scammed a woman and her Marin County real estate agent out of around $1.6 million. If you have an e-mail account, you’ve probably seen those messages from the supposed son of the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in them, a man pleads for quick financial assistance while he is waiting for money to be sent to him from his father. Usually, these e-mails claim that large sums of money is needed in order to assist the supposed ‘prince’ with regaining monies caught up in some international debacle. Of course, this story is never true. Yet, many people every year are taken in by the thought of assisting royalty and the potential benefits that may come along with it, both financial and social.
He had an easier time than most people would in convincing the woman and her boyfriend that he was an African prince, he’s actually from the Congo. Over the course of several years, the couple dropped money into his bank account, even during a span of time while he was in prison and was only available by telephone. The mistake that he made was that he signed several promissory notes that stated he would pay over $1 million to the couple for their assistance.
In the state of California, cases such as these fall under the category of wire fraud (18 US Code 1343) and are considered federal crimes. He’s been convicted of wire fraud because of the means by which the monies he received were transferred. The law is the same for mail fraud; the mode of transmission makes the difference. Both mail fraud and wire fraud involve intentionally attempting to defraud either individuals or institutions of their monies or property by means of false pretenses. When the person has allegedly committed this crime against an individual, which he did, he could be facing up to 20 years in prison. Whereas, when the victim is an institution (like a bank, for example), then the penalty can be up to 30 years imprisonment. Again, a key element of this charge is intent. If federal prosecutors cannot prove that the accused intended to commit fraud, then they are left with no argument. He may, however, be facing these kinds of penalties when he appears in court for sentencing in November of this year.