Federal charges, such as credit card fraud, identity theft and tax fraud are not something one should take lightly. These types of crimes are usually investigated at the federal level before charges are even filed. This means that the investigation was probably very thorough, and the prosecution is more than likely going to have a great deal of evidence for their case against you.
That evidence is going to need to be overturned, explained or diminished in weight-bearing if at all possible. Getting an attorney early in the game, such as soon as you become aware an investigation is underway, may help. An attorney familiar with federal investigation tactics may be able to advise you on how to minimize the gathering of harmful or incriminating information about you.
Another thing to know about federal charges is that they are decided before a grand jury. Judges are also more stringent when it comes to following sentencing guidelines. There may be some areas where they deviate, but it is not as common as in cases heard by the state court system.
For example, recent charges filed against three individuals in South Florida carry mandatory sentencing. The trio allegedly used the personal information of patients from a medical services provider, incarcerated individuals and others to file false tax returns. Refunds from the tax returns were deposited into one of their bank accounts.
Two of the individuals were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, bank fraud, and aggravated identity fraud, to which they both pleaded guilty. One also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud. The third individual pleaded guilty to aggravated identity fraud as well, and use of an access device without authorization. Their individual crimes carry maximum sentencing of 10, 20 or 30 years in prison, depending on the charge; however, the charge of aggravated identity theft holds a "mandatory" sentence of two years, for which each of them pleaded guilty to.
Source: The United States Attorney's Office Southern District of Florida, "Three Defendants Pled Guilty in Extensive Identity Theft Tax Refund Fraud Scheme," July 27, 2015