414 U.S. 395 (1974), 72-1168, United States v. Maze

Docket Nº:No. 72-1168
Citation:414 U.S. 395, 94 S.Ct. 645, 38 L.Ed.2d 603
Party Name:United States v. Maze
Case Date:January 08, 1974
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 395

414 U.S. 395 (1974)

94 S.Ct. 645, 38 L.Ed.2d 603

United States



No. 72-1168

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 8, 1974

Argued November 13-14, 1973




Respondent was convicted of violating the federal mail fraud statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1341, by devising a scheme to defraud through unlawfully obtaining possession from one Meredith of a credit card issued by a Louisville bank, which respondent used to obtain goods and services from motel operators in various States knowing that the operators to whom he presented the card for payment would mail the sales slips to the Louisville bank, which would in turn mail them to Meredith. Section 1341 makes it a crime, inter alia, for a person who has devised a scheme to defraud or for obtaining money or property by means of false pretenses for the purpose of executing the scheme knowingly to cause to be delivered by mail according to the direction thereon any thing delivered by the Postal Service. The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of conviction on the ground that § 1341 was inapplicable to respondent's conduct.

Held: The mailings were not sufficiently closely related to respondent's scheme to bring his conduct within the statute. Though mailings were to be directed to adjusting the accounts between respondent's victims (the motels, the Louisville bank, and Meredith), they were not for the purpose of executing the scheme embraced by the statute, since that scheme had already reached fruition when respondent checked out of the motel, and did not depend on which of his victims ultimately bore the loss. Pereira v. United States, 347 U.S. 1; United States v. Sampson, 371 U.S. 75, distinguished. Pp. 398-405.

468 F.2d 529, affirmed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which DOUGLAS, STEWART, MARSHALL, and POWELL, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which WHITE, J., joined, post, p. 405. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 408.

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REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

In February, 1971, respondent Thomas E. Maze moved to Louisville, Kentucky, and there shared an apartment with Charles L. Meredith. In the spring of that year, respondent's fancy lightly turned to thoughts of the sunny Southland, and he thereupon took Meredith's BankAmericard and his 1968 automobile and headed for Southern California. By presenting the BankAmericard and signing Meredith's name, respondent obtained food and lodging at motels located in California, Florida, and Louisiana. Each of these establishments transmitted to the Citizens Fidelity Bank & Trust Co. in Louisville, which had issued the BankAmericard to Meredith, the invoices representing goods and services furnished to respondent. Meredith, meanwhile, on the day after respondent's departure from Louisville, notified the Louisville bank that his credit card had been stolen.

Upon respondent's return to Louisville, he was indicted on four counts of violation of the federal mail fraud statute, [94 S.Ct. 647] 18 U.S.C. § 1341, and one count of violation of the Dyer Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2312. The mail fraud counts of the indictment charged that respondent had devised a scheme to defraud the Louisville bank, Charles L. Meredith, and several merchants in different States by unlawfully obtaining possession of the BankAmericard issued by the Louisville bank to Meredith, and using the card to obtain goods and services. The indictment charged that respondent had obtained goods and services

Page 397

at four specified motels by presenting Meredith's BankAmericard for payment and representing himself to be Meredith, and that respondent knew that each merchant would cause the sales slips of the purchases to be delivered by mail to the Louisville bank, which would, in turn, mail them to Meredith for payment. The indictment also charged that the delay in this mailing would enable the respondent to continue purchasing goods and services for an appreciable period of time.

Respondent was tried by a jury in the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. At trial, representatives of the four motels identified the sales invoices from the transactions on Meredith's BankAmericard which were forwarded to the Louisville bank by their motels. An official of the Louisville bank testified that all of the sales invoices for those transactions were received by the bank in due course through the mail, and that this was the customary method by which invoices representing BankAmericard purchases were transmitted to the Louisville bank. The jury found respondent guilty as charged on all counts, and he appealed the judgment of conviction to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. That court reversed the judgment as to the mail fraud statute, but affirmed it as to the Dyer Act. 468 F.2d 529 (1972).1 Because of an apparent conflict among the courts of appeals as to the circumstances under which the

Page 398

fraudulent use of a credit card may violate the mail fraud statute,2 we granted the Government's petition for certiorari. 411 U.S. 963 (1973). For the reasons stated below, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

The applicable parts of the mail fraud statute provide as follows:3

Whoever, having devised or intending to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining

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money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises . . . for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice or attempting so to do . . . knowingly causes to be delivered by mail according to the direction thereon, or at the place at which it is directed to be delivered by the person to whom it is addressed, any [matter or thing whatever to be sent or delivered by the Postal Service] shall be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

18 U.S.C. § 1341.

In Pereira v. United States, 347 U.S. 1, 9 (1954), the Court held that one "causes" the mails to be used where he

does an act with knowledge that the use of the mails will follow in the ordinary course of business, or where such use can reasonably be foreseen, even though not actually intended. . . .

We assume, as did the Court of Appeals, that the evidence would support a finding by the jury that Maze "caused" the mailings of the invoices he signed from the out-of-state motels to the Louisville bank. But the more difficult question is whether these mailings were sufficiently closely related to respondent's scheme to bring his conduct within the statute.4

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Under the statute, the mailing must be "for the purpose of executing the scheme, as the statute requires," Kann v. United States, 323 U.S. 88, 94 (1944), but "[i]t is not necessary that the scheme contemplate the use of the mails as an essential element," Pereira v. United States, supra, at 8. The Government relies on Pereira, supra, and United States v. Sampson, 371 U.S. 75 (1962), to support its position, while respondent relies on Kann v. United States, supra, and Parr v. United States, 363 U.S. 370 (1960).

In Kann, supra, corporate officers and directors were accused of having set up a dummy corporation through which to divert profits of their own corporation to their own use. As a part of the scheme, the defendants were accused of having fraudulently obtained checks payable to them which were cashed or deposited at a bank and then mailed for collection to the drawee bank. This Court held that the fraud was completed at the point at which defendants cashed the checks:

The scheme in each case had reached fruition. The persons intended to receive the money had received it irrevocably. It was immaterial to them, or to any consummation of the scheme, how the bank which paid or credited the check would collect from the drawee bank. It cannot be said that the mailings in question were for [94 S.Ct. 649] the purpose of executing the scheme, as the statute requires.

323 U.S. at 94.

In Parr, supra, the defendants were charged, inter alia, with having obtained gasoline and other products and services for their own purposes by the unauthorized use of a gasoline credit card issued to the school district which employed them. The oil company which furnished products and services to the defendants would

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mail invoices to the school district for payment, and the school district's payment was made by check sent in the mail. Relying on Kann, the Court again found that there was not a sufficient connection between the mailing and the execution of the defendants' scheme, because it was immaterial to the defendants how the oil company went about collecting its payment.

The defendant in Pereira, supra, was charged with having defrauded a wealthy widow of her property after marrying her. The Court describes the conduct of defendant in these words:

Pereira asked his then wife if she would join him in the hotel venture and advance $35,000 toward the purchase price of $78,000. She agreed. It was then agreed, between her and Pereira, that she would sell some securities that she possessed in Los Angeles, and bank the money in a bank of his choosing in El Paso. On June 15, she received the check for $35,000 on the Citizens National Bank of Los Angeles from her brokers in Los Angeles, and gave it to Pereira, who endorsed it for collection to the State National Bank of El Paso. The check cleared, and on June 18, a cashier's check for $35,000 was drawn in favor of Pereira.

347 U.S. at 5. Thus, the mailings in Pereira played a significant part in enabling the defendant in that case to acquire dominion over the $35,000, with which he ultimately absconded.5

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Unlike the mailings in Pereira, the mailings here were directed to the end of adjusting accounts...

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