U.S. Supreme Court declines to narrow bank fraud statute

June 23 Mon Jun 23, 2014 1:13pm EDT

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June 23 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to reduce the scope of a federal criminal law against bank fraud, ruling that prosecutors do not need to prove that defendants intended to defraud a bank.

In a ruling that was unanimous on the outcome, but split on the reasoning, the court affirmed a decision by the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the bank fraud statute "casts a wide net for bank fraud liability."

The decision came in an appeal brought by Kevin Loughrin, who was convicted in Salt Lake City, Utah, of six counts of bank fraud for stealing checks that he then altered so he could buy merchandise at Target Corp stores.

Loughrin told police he meant to buy the items using the checks, then return the items for cash refunds. He was charged with using altered checks totaling $1,184.

Loughrin appealed his conviction. He argued that the bank fraud statute required prosecutors to prove that he intended to defraud the banks on which the checks were drawn. He said his intent was only to deceive Target.

Loughrin contended that, without an element of intent to defraud a bank, the federal statute would apply improperly to run-of-the-mill frauds that involve payment with a check, an area traditionally left to the 50 U.S. states' jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court disagreed with that argument, saying the text of the federal statute "limits its scope to deceptions that have some real connection to a federally insured bank."

The appeals court had upheld Loughrin's conviction in a March 2013 ruling. Loughrin did not appeal his related convictions for identity theft and possession of stolen mail.

Neither a lawyer for Loughrin, nor a spokesman for the Department of Justice could immediately be reached for comment.

Between 2006 and 2010, the government sought to prosecute nearly 3,000 cases using the statute, according to court papers.

The case is Loughrin v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 13-316 (Reporting by Lawrence Hurley in Washington, D.C.; Additional reporting by Dena Aubin in New York; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Grant McCool)

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