A conversion per se is a crime. The law prohibits the wilful receipt or possession of any money order form with the intent to convert it to one’s own use or gain or the use or gain of another knowing it to have been embezzled, stolen, or converted. This legislation is intended to curb illicit trafficking in money orders[i]. Similarly, the act of knowingly converting a blank money order form provided by or under the authority of the Post Office Department or Postal Service is illegal under the Act[ii].
Thus, the three elements of a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 500 are (1) receipt and possession of a blank money order, (2) an intent to convert it for one’s own use or gain, and (3) knowledge of the stolen, embezzled, or converted character of the money order[iii].
The source of a money order, whether obtained by lawful or unlawful means, is not an element of the offense of passing, with intent to defraud. The fact that a person signed his own name does not negate the idea of forgery, because courts have held that if the signature is false in any material part and calculated to induce another to give credit to it as genuine, it amounts to forgery. And “if the deceit consists in making it appear that a man’s own act was done under circumstances which would make it valid and genuine, when in fact it was false and unauthorized, the result is the same.[iv].”
In a prosecution for passing altered postal money order in violation of 18 USCS § 500, a defendant’s knowledge of altered character of money orders is a requisite element for conviction[v]. In order to prove the element of knowledge, the accused should have the knowledge of wrongfully exercising dominion with respect to someone else’s property, rather than knowledge of the stolen, embezzled, or converted nature of the order. Thus, “filling in the blanks to provide for payment of a Postal Service money order to the defendant and attempting to exchange it for cash amounts to the knowing, wrongful exercise of dominion and constitutes “conversion,” whether or not the defendant has stolen or found the money order[vi].”
[i] 18 U.S.C.A. § 500
[iii] United States v. Bryant, 612 F.2d 806, 812 (4th Cir. N.C. 1979)
[iv] United States v. Tasher, 453 F.2d 244 (10th Cir. Colo. 1972)
[v] United States v. Tomeny, 144 F.3d 749 (11th Cir. Fla. 1998)
[vi] U.S. v. Johnson, 726 F. Supp. 668 (N.D. Ill. 1989).