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Multiple thefts that are otherwise small in nature may still add up to significant amounts. Under Florida state law, those who allegedly 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 the fact that “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.” Criminal charges in these cases are typically based on the aggregate value of the property obtained or the intended to be obtained, with some offenses being classified as felonies, which carry steep consequences. Convictions for organized fraud offenses carry steep penalties that may include lengthy prison sentences and substantial fines.
If you were arrested or think that you might be under investigation in South Florida for involvement in an alleged organized scheme to defraud, do not make any kind of statement to authorities until you have legal counsel. The Hoffman Firm defends clients accused of white collar crimes in Hallandale Beach, Hollywood, Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Dania Beach, and surrounding areas of Broward County. Evan Hoffman is a skilled organized fraud defense attorney in Miami who understands how prosecutors handle these types of cases because of his previous experience as an Assistant State Attorney for the Broward County State Attorney’s Office.
Under Florida Statute § 817.034, an alleged offender can face criminal charges if he or she engages in a scheme to defraud and obtains property or if he or she engages in a scheme to defraud and, in furtherance of that scheme, communicates with any person with intent to obtain property from that person. In the case of the latter offense, each act of communication can be charged as a separate offense.
The Florida Communications Fraud Act defines property as anything of value, including:
- Real property, including things growing on, affixed to, or found in land
- Tangible or intangible personal property, including rights, privileges, interests, and claims
Value is defined under the same statute as:
- 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
- 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
- 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 values of separate properties obtained in one scheme to defraud—whether from the same person or from several persons—will be aggregated to determine the grade of the offense. If the value of property cannot be ascertained, the judge, jury, or other trier of fact can find the value to be not less than a certain amount. If a minimum value cannot be ascertained, then the value will be an amount less than $300.
Penalties for an Organized Fraud Conviction
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
- 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.
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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. As a former Assistant State Attorney, Miami organized fraud defense attorney Evan Hoffman understands what to look for when investigating these cases, as well as the most effective ways to defend them.
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