Written By: Attorney, Melissa Morris
We frequently have PPL members who insist that we help them pursue fraud claims because someone is not being honest in a business deal or is cheating the heirs out of money from a trust, etc. They wonder why the police or the Attorney General won’t go after the perpetrator and throw them in jail, and also, why we as their attorney won’t write a letter to help them convince the police to go after the fraud. While we love to help PPL members with their legal matters, and we are more than willing to write letters where appropriate, part of our job is to educate you on what is legally appropriate. This article explains when and why law enforcement agencies will go after someone for fraud, and when they will not.
There are two main bodies of law: Criminal Law and Civil Law. Criminal Law is when someone is charged with a crime by a law enforcement agency. Civil Law is when two or more civilians (not government) have a dispute and one files a lawsuit against the other. If you lose a Criminal Law case, the punishment you receive is paying a fine to the government and/or spending time in jail or prison. If you lose a Civil Law case, the punishment you receive is usually to pay money to the winner of the Civil case.
With that background in mind, if you are involved in a Civil Law matter and you feel someone is committing fraud, law enforcement agencies will rarely get involved to arrest one of the parties and prosecute them for fraud, even if you ask them to. Instead, law enforcement will expect the judge or jury in the Civil Court to punish that person by ordering them to pay money to the winner of the suit. Law enforcement agencies will not try to ensure that the judge or jury does that. That is the responsibility of the parties in the civil suit. Also, once a judgment is entered ordering someone to pay money to the winner, the Judge does not then take any steps to force that person to pay. The winner has to follow up with more legal steps, such as requesting a garnishment, to force the other side to pay.
Although fraud is listed as a crime in the New Mexico Criminal Code, generally the only time law enforcement will prosecute someone for fraud is for high profile cases or situations where they have already arrested someone and the law enforcement agency adds fraud charges to the other charges they already have against the person. Examples are the Bernie Madoff and Doug Vaughan ponzi schemes. It is very rare for law enforcement to do otherwise.
If you do believe fraud has been committed by someone, we encourage you to use your PPL benefits and call us at Davis Miles to discuss it. We will often recommend that you file a police report or a report with some other government agency. If your report generates enough concern, the law enforcement agency will decide to prosecute the person involved. If they don’t prosecute the person after receiving your report, that’s their signal that they don’t feel the need to prosecute the person and if you want the person to pay for their fraud, you’ll have to sue that person in Civil Court and convince a judge or jury that you are right.
The reason your PPL benefits are so valuable is because you can discuss these kinds of issues with an experienced attorney without having to pay money (you are already pre-paid). Please call us and we will be glad to discuss these issues with you and answer your specific questions. We look forward to hearing from you.