Supreme Court Holds That Fraudster Who Stole Customer’s Funds Is Guilty of Defrauding the Bank
The United States Supreme Court recently held that a fraudster who obtained a bank customer’s account information and stole the customer’s money was guilty of bank fraud. See Shaw v. United States, 2016 WL 7182235 (Dec. 12, 2016). In Shaw, the defendant obtained a customer’s bank account number and used the information to transfer funds from the customer’s account to other accounts from which the defendant took the funds. The defendant eventually was convicted of violating 18 USC § 1344(1), which makes it a crime to “knowingly execut[e] a scheme . . . to defraud a financial institution.” After being convicted by the District Court, the defendant appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which affirmed the conviction. On appeal, the Supreme Court likewise affirmed the decision. In doing so, the Court affirmed that a bank that holds a customer’s deposit account becomes either the owner or bailee of the customer’s funds. Thus, the bank obtains a property interest in the funds, and any scheme to defraud the customer out of these funds is also a scheme to defraud the bank itself out of its property rights in the funds. The fact that the defendant was unaware of the bank’s interest in the funds was irrelevant, because “to require actual knowledge of those bank-related property-law niceties, would free (or convict) equally culpable defendants depending on their property-law expertise—an arbitrary result.” Similarly, the Court rejected the defendant’s argument that he could not have violated the statute if he did not intend to harm the bank or if the bank ultimately did not suffer any monetary harm, as the defendant’s mere knowledge of the potential resulting harm to the bank was sufficient to violate the statute.