United States Federal Conspiracy / Agreement Offenses: Fraud, Money Laundering, False Claims


Conspiracy charges are found in many fraud cases and money laundering cases.

§ 371. Conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud United States
If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
If, however, the offense, the commission of which is the object of the conspiracy, is a misdemeanor only, the punishment for such conspiracy shall not exceed the maximum punishment provided for such misdemeanor.

There are two alternative conspiracy theories in the United States Code under 18 U.S.C. § 371: (1) conspiracy to commit a crime against the United States, and (2) conspiracy to defraud the United States or agency thereof. Each of these two alternative conspiracies has different elements. A conspiracy to commit a crime against the United States requires (a) an agreement to commit a crime, (b) one or more overt acts in furtherance of the crime, (c) the intent to carry out a substantive offense, and (d) an individual must conspire with at least one bona-fide co-conspirator. Circumstantial evidence is often used to show the existence of a conspiratorial agreement. An agreement requires a meeting of the minds to achieve a common, unlawful objective. An act toward the completion of the agreement is required for conspiracy. Additionally, each overt act taken to affect the illegal purpose of the conspiracy need not be illegal in itself.

In Pinkerton v. United States, 66 S.Ct. 1180 (1946), the Supreme Court held that criminal acts committed by one co-conspirator may be attributed to the other conspirators. The criminal act must be a furtherance of the objective of the conspiracy and reasonably foreseeable by the other conspirators. For example, co-conspirators may be held liable for other co-conspirators’ use of firearms in relation to a drug transaction. This is very common in federal criminal cases. There are limitations to a co-conspirator’s liability for other substantive crimes committed by another conspirator. Due process constrains the application of Pinkerton where the relationship between the defendant and the substantive offense is slight – even where there is a recognized nexus between drugs and guns there is no presumption of foreseeability.


Federal conspiracy to defraud means that an obstruction of a lawful function of the United States or agency occurs by deceit, craft, or trickery, or at least by means that are dishonest. Federal conspiracy crimes to defraud the United States require proof of the following elements: (a) an agreement between two or more people, (b) to obstruct the lawful function of the government, (c) by deceit or dishonesty, and (d) at least one overt act in furtherance of that conspiracy. When you are charged with a crime of fraud against the United States it can be any of the following: mail fraud, fire fraud, securities fraud, bank fraud, honest services fraud, mortgage fraud, loan fraud, tax fraud and bankruptcy fraud.

Federal bankruptcy fraud – 18 U.S.C. § 152
Claims and services – 18 U.S.C. § 286
False, fictitious and fraudulent claims – 18 U.S.C. § 287
False claims for postal losses – 18 U.S.C. § 288
False claims for pensions – 18 U.S.C. § 289
Statements of entries – 18 U.S.C. § 1001
Possession of papers to defraud the United States – 18 U.S.C. §1002
Loan and Credit Applications, renewals and discounts, crop insurance – 18 U.S.C. § 1014
Fraud and related activity in connection with identification documents (Identity Theft) – 18 U.S.C. § 1028
Major Fraud against the United States – 18 U.S.C. § 1031
Mail fraud and bank fraud – 18 U.S.C. § 1341 (i.e. Ponzi schemes)
Fraud by wire, radio or television – 18 U.S.C. § 1343
Bank Fraud, 18 U.S.C. § 1344