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Have you or a loved one been charged with organized scheme to defraud? This charge can result in a felony, decades in prison, and serious fines. That’s why it’s critical to hire a defense attorney with experience in scheme to defraud cases to fight for your rights.
This is one charge you don’t want to take lightly or leave up to the courts to decide if there was a misunderstanding. The most effective way to protect yourself is to hire experienced legal representation.
It’s important to know that there are many different types of fraud crimes in Florida. One of the most common is scheme to defraud, also known as organized fraud. This crime is committed when someone engages in ongoing, systematic behavior to defraud someone. This behavior is taken to obtain property through fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises. This charge may be a misdemeanor or felony offense, depending on the value of the property obtained.
To better understand this charge, let’s first review how the State defines the charge under Florida Statute Section 817.034, the potential penalties, and common defense strategies.
Areas in Florida We Represent
When you are facing charges for an organized scheme to defraud in South Flroida, seek the legal assistance of a criminal defense attorney immediately. We represent individuals in Broward County, Miami-Dade County, and Palm Beach County including the following areas:
- Boca Raton
- Boynton Beach
- Coral Springs
- Delray Beach
- Fort Lauderdale
- Lake Worth
- Palm Beach Gardens
- Pembroke Pines
- Pompano Beach
- West Palm Beach
Defining Organized Scheme to Defraud in Florida Statute 817.034
Florida Statute Section 817.034 defines Scheme to Defraud (Organized Fraud) as follows:
“‘Scheme to defraud’ means 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.”
To prove Scheme to Defraud, the State must prove:
- You engaged in a scheme to defraud through ongoing, systematic conduct
- You intended to defraud one or more persons or you intended to obtain property from one or more people
- You committed this behavior through false, fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises
- You obtained property as a result of this behavior.
To better understand Florida Statute Section 817.034, let’s take a closer look at the language used and its definitions.
The statue defines “obtain” as “temporarily or permanently to deprive any person of the right to property or a benefit therefrom, or to appropriate the property to one’s own use or to the use of any other person not entitled thereto.” In order words, the perpetrator takes away someone’s property, uses it, or allows someone else to use it, even though they are not entitled to do so.
“Willful misrepresentations” means to purposefully engage in actions that give a false or misleading impression of something. “Property” includes anything of value, not just physical items. This may include tangible physical property, tangible and intangible personal property, and services.
Penalties for Organized Scheme to Defraud
To determine the value of the obtained property, the State looks at the market value of the property at the time of the offense or the cost to replace the property. If they can not determine the precise value, a minimum value will be used. If the minimum value cannot be determined, the value will be set at less than $20,000. The value is important because it determines the offense and its penalties.
The value of several different articles of property obtained in a scheme to defraud are aggregated to determine the offense’s grade. This includes property from one person or multiple people.
If the aggregate value of the property is less than $20,000, the offense is a third-degree felony. The penalty is up to five years in prison, up to 5 years of probation, and a maximum of $5,000 in fines.
If the aggregate value is over $20,000 but less than $50,000, the offense is a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, up to 15 years probation, and up to $10,000 in fines. If the obtained property is valued at $50,000 or more, it is a first-degree felony with up to 30 years in prison, 30 years of probation, and up to $10,000 in fines.
Penalties Under the Florida Communications Fraud Act
The State of Florida enacted the Florida Communications Fraud Act under the Florida Statute Section 817.034. This act was enacted to address schemes to defraud that use communications technology. This law makes it a crime to engage in a scheme to defraud and communicate with someone with the intent to obtain property with them. Methods of communication include mail, internet, wire, telephone, etc. The definition of scheme to defraud remains the same.
The value of the property obtained is also used to determine the grade of the offense:
- For property valued over $300, the offense is third-degree felony with up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
- For property valued less than $300, the offense is a first degree misdemeanor, with a potential sentence of up to a year in prison and a fine up to $1,000.
Hiring an Attorney for Organized Scheme to Defraud Charge in Palm Beach & Broward County
There are several different defense strategies a criminal defense attorney may take in a scheme to defraud case. One of the common defense strategies is to argue that there was not actual intent to defraud. For example, the case may involve service contracts with one or more persons; the State of Florida may charge you with intent to defraud if the service is not provided or the customer disputes whether the service was provided.
However, they’ll need to prove that you intended to either not provide the service or to provide a different service than was contracted for. Your defense attorney may point to extenuating circumstances that prevented you from being able to provide the service. So, even if the service was not provided, your attorney could argue that it wasn’t your intent to not do so. You still acted in good faith.
Your intent to defraud defense attorney may also examine the statute of limitations. The State of Florida is required to bring a prosecution within five years of the act. However, if you leave Florida during that time period or the State cannot determine your residence, the period of time can be extended for another year. Your attorney can file a motion to dismiss the charges if the statute of limitations has passed.
There is also the defense strategy of double jeopardy. As mentioned earlier, schemes to defraud charges can include aggregate offenses. However, the State can only convict someone on one ground. If there are multiple charges, your defense attorney can move to have them dismissed.
Your defense attorney may also review whether your charges can truly be classified as a scheme to defraud. There may be multiple thefts, but they may not be part of a greater intent to defraud if there was not willful misrepresentation, false or fraudulent pretenses, or promises.
The most important thing is to make sure your attorney is experienced in scheme to defraud cases and is committed to your case. At Weinstein Legal, we have deep experience in scheme to defraud cases and are prepared to fight for you. If you or a loved one has been charged with scheme to defraud in Florida, don’t leave your future up to chance. Reach out to our attorneys today to schedule your free consultation.