Nos. 528, 529.

161 U.S. 306 (1896)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided March 2, 1896.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. James M. Beck and Mr. Hampton L. Carson for plaintiff in error. Mr. William F. Harrity was on their brief.

Mr. Assistant Attorney General Whitney and Mr. John L. Thomas, Assistant Attorney General for the Post Office Department, for the defendants in error.

MR. JUSTICE BREWER, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

Inasmuch as the testimony has not been preserved, we must assume that it was sufficient to substantiate the charges in the indictments; that this was a scheme and artifice to defraud, and that the defendant did not intend that the bonds should mature, or that although money was received any should be returned, but that it should be appropriated to his own use. In other words, he was trying to entrap the unwary, and to secure money from them on the faith of a scheme glittering and attractive in form, yet unreal and deceptive in fact, and known to him to be such. So far as the moral element is concerned it must be taken that the defendant's guilt was established.

But the contention on his part is that the statute reaches only such cases as, at common law, would come within the definition of "false pretences," in order to make out which there must be a misrepresentation as to some existing fact and not a mere promise as to the future. It is urged that there was no misrepresentation as to the existence or solvency of the corporation, the Provident Bond and Investment Company, or as to its modes of doing business, no suggestion that it failed to issue its bonds to any and every one advancing the required dues, or that its promise of payment according to the conditions named in the bond was not a valid and binding promise. And then, as counsel say in their brief, "it [the indictment] discloses on its face absolutely nothing but an intention to commit a violation of a contract. If there be one principle of criminal law that is absolutely settled by an overwhelming avalanche of authority it is that fraud either in the civil courts or in the criminal courts must be the misrepresentation of an existing or a past fact, and cannot consist of the mere intention not to carry out a contract in the future."

The question thus presented is one of vital importance, and underlies both cases. We cannot agree with counsel. The statute is broader than is claimed. Its letter shows this: "Any scheme or artifice to defraud." Some schemes may be promoted through mere representations and promises as to the future, yet are none the less schemes and artifices to defraud. Punishment because of the fraudulent purpose is no new thing. As said by Mr. Justice Brown, in Evans v. United States, 153 U.S. 584, 592, "if a person buy goods on credit in good faith, knowing that he is unable to pay for them at the time, but believing that he will be able to pay for them at the maturity of the bill, he is guilty of no offence even if he be disappointed in making such payment. But if he purchases them, knowing that he will not be able to pay for them, and with an intent to cheat the vendor, this is a plain fraud, and made punishable as such by statutes in many of the States."

But beyond the letter of the statute is the evil sought to be remedied, which is always significant in determining the meaning. It is common knowledge that nothing is more alluring than the expectation of receiving large returns on small investments. Eagerness to take the chances of large gains lies at the foundation of all lottery schemes, and, even when the matter of chance is eliminated, any scheme or plan which holds out the prospect of receiving more than is parted with appeals to the cupidity of all.

In the light of this the statute must be read, and so read it includes everything designed to defraud by representations as to the past or present, or suggestions and promises as to the future. The significant fact is the intent and purpose. The question presented by this indictment to the jury was not, as counsel insist, whether the business scheme suggested in this bond was practicable or not. If the testimony had shown that this Provident company, and the defendant, as its president, had entered in good faith upon that business, believing that out of the moneys received they could by investment or otherwise make enough to justify the promised returns, no conviction could be sustained, no matter how visionary might seem the scheme. The charge is that in putting forth this scheme it was not the intent of the defendant to make an honest effort for its success, but that he resorted to this form and pretence of a bond without a thought that he or the company would ever make good its promises. It was with the purpose of protecting the public against all such intentional efforts to despoil, and to prevent the post office from being used to carry them into effect, that this statute was passed; and it would strip it of value to confine it to such cases as disclose an actual misrepresentation as to some existing fact, and exclude those in which is only the allurement of a specious and glittering promise. This, which is the principal contention of counsel, must be overruled.

The second, which applies more fully to the first than the second case, is that the indictment is defective in that it avers that in pursuance of this fraudulent scheme twenty letters and circulars were deposited in the post office, without in any way specifying the character of those letters or circulars. It is contended that the indictment should either recite the letters, or at least by direct statements show their purpose and character, and that the names and addresses of the parties to whom the letters were sent should also be stated, so as to inform the defendant as to what parts of his correspondence the charge of crime is made, and also to enable him to defend himself against a subsequent indictment for the same transaction. These objections were raised by a motion to quash the indictment, but such a motion is ordinarily addressed to the discretion of the court, and a refusal to quash is not, generally, assignable for error. Logan v. United States, 144 U.S. 263, 282.

Further, the omission to state the names of the parties intended to be defrauded and the names and addresses on the letters is satisfied by the allegation, if true, that such names and addresses are to the grand jury unknown. And parol evidence is always admissible, and sometimes necessary, to establish the defence of prior conviction or acquittal. Dunbar v. United States, 156 U.S. 185, 191.

It may be conceded that the indictment would be more satisfactory if it gave more full information as to the contents or import of these letters, so that upon its face it would be apparent that they were calculated or designed to aid in carrying into execution the scheme to defraud. But still we think that as it stands it must be held to be sufficient. There was a partial identification of the letters by the time and place of mailing, and the charge was that defendant "intending in and for executing such scheme and artifice to defraud and attempting so to do, placed and caused to be placed in the post office," etc. This, it will be noticed, is substantially the language of the statute. If defendant had desired further specification and identification, he could have secured it by demanding a bill of particulars. Rosen v. United States, 161 U.S. 29.

We do not wish to be understood as intimating that in order to constitute the offence it must be shown that the letters so mailed were of a nature calculated to be effective in carrying out the fraudulent scheme. It is enough if, having devised a scheme to defraud, the defendant with a view of executing it deposits in the post office letters, which he thinks may assist in carrying it into effect, although in the judgment of the jury they may be absolutely ineffective therefor.

A final objection is that the indictment in the first case is multifarious because, as claimed, it includes many offences, and In re Henry, 123 U.S. 372, 374, is cited as authority therefor, in which, in reference to a case of this nature, Chief Justice Waite said: "Each letter so taken out or put in constitutes a separate and distinct violation of the act." This objection was not taken until after the verdict, and hence, if of any validity, was presented too late. Connors v. United States, 158 U.S. 408, 411.

These are the only objections which require consideration, and, finding no error in them, the judgment in each of these cases is



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