What is “Honest Service Fraud”?

What is "Honest Service Fraud"?

Under federal law honest service fraud “includes a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.” 18 U.S.C. § 1346. Honest service fraud means that a fraud scheme was intended to deprive another person of the right of honest service. For a criminal defendant to be found guilty of this crime,  it is not necessary that the alleged victim actually relied on the fraud or be injured by the fraud.

“Honest service” is an interesting legal concept. The right of honest service is an intangible right. This is in juxtaposition to schemes to defraud people of tangible property, like money or other assets.

Honest service fraud makes it a crime for an elected official or a corporate executive to fraudulently deprive the public of their right to intangible honest services. Essentially this means that elected officials and corporate executives owe a duty to the public to perform their jobs honestly. Under honest service fraud, when a person in these positions of power fails to perform their job with honesty, then the public is defrauded of the value of what should have been honest services.

This crime is most prevalently seen in the public sector with elected officials and other civic leaders. For example, honest service fraud may involve bribery or failure to disclose a conflict of interest. Charges for honest service fraud have figured into a number of convictions against elected officials. For example, honest service fraud was a key component in the cases against former U.S. Representative, Randy Cunningham, and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, both of whom pleaded guilty and served prison sentences.

The fact is, the honest fraud statute is vague and gives prosecutors broad authority to bring fraud charges. If you are being investigated for, or have been charged with, honest service fraud or any accompanying white collar crime, contact us immediately. Our firm specializes in white collar criminal defense cases, representing corporate and individual clients in federal and state criminal matters.

We provide aggressive, strategic representation to our clients in order to limit exposure to harsh criminal penalties. Contact us or call now (480) 219-1366 for a case evaluation. Have your questions answered and obtain the peace of mind that comes from having a former Assistant U.S. Attorney on your side.

Recently, Ashley D. Adams was selected by The National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 in Criminal Defense and as one of Arizona’s Finest Lawyers.

Ashley serves as the American Bar Association’s co-chair for the Southwest Region’s Subcommittee on White Collar Crime. She is an active member of the ABA’s Health Care Fraud Subcommittee. Ashley has had the honor of being selected as one of Arizona’s Best Lawyers and Southwest’s Super Lawyers for seven years running.


The attorneys at Ashley D. Adams, PLC handle state criminal cases throughout Arizona and federal criminal cases throughout the United States, including Arizona, Oklahoma, Utah, and California.