Multiple thefts that are otherwise small in nature may still add up to significant amounts. Under state law in Florida, alleged offenders who engage in schemes to defraud others of money, property, or other assets can be charged with the crime of organized fraud.
The state legislature passed the Florida Communications Fraud Act in response to “schemes to defraud have proliferated in the United States in recent years and that many operators of schemes to defraud use communications technology to solicit victims and thereby conceal their identities and overcome a victim’s normal resistance to sales pressure by delivering a personalized sales message.” Convictions for organized fraud offenses carry steep penalties that may include lengthy prison sentences and substantial fines.
Lawyer for Organized Fraud Offenses in Miami-Dade County, Florida
Were you arrested or do you believe that you may be under investigation in Florida for an alleged scheme to defraud others? It is in your best interest to immediately contact The Hoffman Firm for help fighting to have these criminal charges reduced or dismissed.
Evan A. Hoffman is an experienced criminal defense attorney in Miami who defends clients accused of white collar offenses all over Miami-Dade County, including Coral Gables, Aventura, Hialeah, South Miami, and several other nearby communities. Call (305) 249-0090 today to take advantage of a free consultation that will let our lawyer review your case and help you understand all of your legal options.
Overview of Organized Fraud in North Miami
- What is a scheme to defraud?
- How are organized fraud offenses graded?
- Where can I find more information about schemes to defraud?
The Florida Communications Fraud Act is codified under Florida Statute § 817.034. The act defines a “scheme to defraud” as “a systematic, ongoing course of conduct with intent to defraud one or more persons, or with intent to obtain property from one or more persons by false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises or willful misrepresentations of a future act.”
Property is defined as anything of value, including real property that includes things growing on, affixed to, or found in land; tangible or intangible personal property, including rights, privileges, interests, and claims; and services. Value may have any one of the following meanings:
- The market value of the property at the time and place of the offense, or, if such cannot be satisfactorily ascertained, the cost of replacement of the property within a reasonable time after the offense;
- The value of a written instrument that does not have a readily ascertainable market value, in the case of an instrument such as a check, draft, or promissory note, is the amount due or collectible or is, in the case of any other instrument which creates, releases, discharges, or otherwise affects any valuable legal right, privilege, or obligation, the greatest amount of economic loss that the owner of the instrument might reasonably suffer by virtue of the loss of the instrument; or
- The value of a trade secret that does not have a readily ascertainable market value is any reasonable value representing the damage to the owner, suffered by reason of losing an advantage over those who do not know of or use the trade secret.
If the value of property cannot be ascertained, the statute states that the trier of fact may find the value to be not less than a certain amount. When no such minimum value can be ascertained, the value is an amount less than $300.
When multiple properties are obtained in a single scheme to defraud, the values of the properties are aggregated in determining the grade of the offense. Under Florida Statute § 817.034(4), organized fraud crimes are graded as follows:
- $50,000 or more — Felony of the first degree punishable by up to 30 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000;
- $20,000 or more, but less than $50,000 — Felony of the second degree punishable by up to 15 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000;
- Less than $20,000, but $300 or more — Felony of the third degree punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000; or
- Less than $300 — Misdemeanor of the first degree punishable by one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
Alleged victims may also be entitled to restitution, and alleged offenders may have their assets seized under forfeiture laws in order to pay restitution. Organized fraud offenses that involved use of the United States Postal Service or electronic communications can also lead to federal charges for mail fraud or wire fraud.
Florida Communications Fraud Act — View the full text of Florida Statute § 817.034. Learn more about the original legislative intent, all definitions relating to the statute, and the different kinds of offenses. It is also important to note that the statute states that separate judgments and sentences for organized fraud and for each offense of communications fraud under this act can be imposed when all such offenses involve the same scheme to defraud.
State v. Summerlot — In July 1996, the state of Florida charged Dirk Summerlot with organized and grand theft first degree when he contracted to repair the house of the alleged victims, Janet and Dan McGuire. On November 1, 1996, the trial court entered an order granting Summerlot’s motions to dismiss both counts after finding that the state could not prove that Summerlot contracted without a license and the state could not show that Summerlot made a material misrepresentation. The Florida Third District Court of Appeal reversed this order and remanded the cause, noting:
The legislative intent set forth in 817.034(1) reflects the aim of preventing the use of communications technology in the perpetration of fraud. However, this provision also reflects that the enactment of section 817.034 consolidated former statutes concerning schemes to defraud (sections 817.035 and 817.036), neither of which required "communication." Section 817.034(4)(c) provides that separate judgments and sentences may be imposed for offenses under subsections (4)(a) and (4)(b), which further suggests the legislative intent that these subsections proscribe separate conduct.
In order to give effect to legislative intent, and to avoid a construction of the statutory language which would lead to an absurd result, our analysis must focus upon a consideration of the statute as a whole. See State v. Webb, 398 So.2d 820, 824 (Fla.1981). This includes "`the evil to be corrected, the language of the act, including its title, the history of its enactment, and the state of the law already in existence bearing on the subject.'" See id (citing Foley v. State, 50 So.2d 179, 184 (Fla.1951)) (emphasis omitted). Considering the legislative intent of subsection (1) together with the plain language of subsection (4), we hold that the state is not required to prove that a defendant "communicated" as a part of a scheme to defraud charged pursuant to section 817.034(4)(a).
The Hoffman Firm | Organized Fraud Lawyer in Miami, FL
If you fear that you could be under investigation or you were already arrested in Florida for alleged scheme to defraud, you should not make any kind of statement to authorities without legal counsel. The Hoffman Firm represents clients in Miami Beach, Key Biscayne, North Miami, Opa-locka, and many surrounding areas of Miami-Dade County.
As a former Assistant State Attorney, Miami criminal defense attorney Evan A. Hoffman understands what to look for when investigating these cases and the most effective ways to defend them. He can provide an honest and thorough evaluation of your case as soon as you call (305) 249-0090 or complete an online contact form to schedule a free consultation.
Evan A. Hoffman
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