Two Texas residents admitting to mail fraud charges involving soda pop rebates each received a sentence consisting of probation without jail time. Federal fraud offenses generally include incarceration and large fines. The two individuals, however, entered into a plea deal and received a lesser punishment.
As reported by the Houston Chronicle, the defendants allegedly defrauded a popular soft drink company after it contracted the Lone Star State entrepreneur and his employee to process mail-in-rebates from soda bottle caps. The refunds provided an incentive to restaurants and convenience stores to switch their fountain sodas to the company’s own brand.
Federal prosecutors charged the duo with creating and mailing fake invoices and spreadsheets to collect $1 million worth of soda cap refunds. Instead of sending the money to its intended recipients, however, they allegedly pocketed the funds.
A mail fraud conviction can bring a sentence of up to 20 years of imprisonment and a maximum fine of $1 million. To convict, a prosecutor must prove that an individual used the U.S. mail system to take money or property intended for someone else. Typical examples include mailing falsified documents, identification or other records.
The 54-year-old entrepreneur and his 43-year-old employee each faced seven charges of mail fraud. By pleading guilty and accepting responsibility for their actions, prosecutors agreed to drop six charges. The judge ordered both individuals to serve five years of probation for admitting guilt to one count of mail fraud.
If a defendant cannot counter the prosecutor’s evidence, entering into a plea bargain may result in an alternative and lesser punishment. As explained by the American Bar Association, plea bargaining avoids a trial and saves the court’s valuable resources for other cases. Effective negotiation between a defense team and prosecutors may result in a less severe punishment than a jury trial.