Articles Posted in Embezzlement

What is Embezzlement?

Embezzlement is what is considered a “White Collar Crime” which occurs when someone steals property or money from another who has entrusted that person to manage or monitor his or her money or property. One element of the crime is that the defendant had legal access but not legal ownership for someone’s money or property.

When you combine the taking of money or property for one’s personal gain with the fact that the individual had been placed in a position of trust, this amounts to the crime of embezzlement.

White collar crime involves illegal activity that is done for the sole purpose of financial gain to the individual being accused and typically takes place in a businesses or corporation. It doesn’t matter whether the business is a small, “mom and pop” business or a large corporation.   Any theft of funds, fraud, etc., is a crime and falls under the category of “White Collar Crime”.   Here are some examples and explanations of white-collar crimes:

Embezzlement: Embezzlement is one of the most common, and most often charged, white-collar crimes. Basically it is a theft involving an employee stealing from their employer. The accused is typically a person who has been placed in a position of trust, has access to money coming into and going out of the business and, has a certain amount of control. It is a premeditated act, which requires a degree of sophistication, planning and covering up. It usually involves the theft of money, taken in small amounts, over a period of time. Embezzlement can also involve the taking of property or services. It may involve only one person or, there may be many employees involved. Regardless, embezzlement is a very serious crime and, can involve the FBI, depending upon the circumstances. Penalties, punishment and fines are determined based upon the amount of the theft itself.

Money Laundering and Extortion: Money laundering is the act to conceal money, which was illegally obtained and then “laundered” through a business with the intent to hide where the money has come from. Extorting money from someone involves intimidation or threats. This may involve money or property.

What is embezzlement and how is it different from a theft charge? Put in very simple terms, embezzlement is basically stealing from your employer. The distinction between embezzlement and theft is the term “entrusting”. It is the way in which the theft was committed. The Penal Code defines embezzlement as the unlawful taking of something from another that has been entrusted to you.

As an example, you work for a company in which part of your responsibility is to take in payments, make bank deposits and generally keep track of money coming in and going out. When your employer hired you they did so with the trust and understanding that you would perform these duties responsibly and truthfully. Because your employer trusted you, you were given access to the bank account, check books, and may even be authorized to sign on the account or issue checks. This is “entrusting” you to do the right thing. They obviously would not have hired you if they felt otherwise.

Penal Code 484 is defined as: “Every person who shall fraudulently appropriate property that has been entrusted to him/her is guilty of theft”. Because of the position of trust, it is considered more serious than a theft. The consequences if convicted will depend upon specific facts surrounding the theft. The value of the theft will determine whether the case is filed as a felony or a misdemeanor. This is called a “wobbler” and when deciding how the case will be filed, the district attorney will take into consideration the value, the circumstances of the theft and your criminal history, if any. If the way in which the theft occurred was highly sophisticated, showing lots of planning and deceit, the district attorney will be more likely to file the case as a felony. However, if you hire an attorney prior to the case being filed, during the district attorney’s review stage, your attorney may be able to convince the district attorney to file the case as a misdemeanor if it looks like they may be on the fence about it. A good defense attorney will present you in the most positive light as possible, giving the district attorney details about you and your life that may result in a misdemeanor filing rather than a felony. This is why early intervention is so crucial in these types of cases.

A 55-year-old La Habra woman has been arrested and charged with 103 Counts of “Embezzlement”. Specifically, the charges filed by the Orange County District Attorney are: (1) Acts Constituting Forgery, 470(d)PC; Making False Entries in Records or Returns, 471PC and Grand Theft, 487(a)PC. Included are the following Sentencing “Enhancements”: (1) Aggravated White Collar Crime Over 100K and (2) Taking Funds Exceeding $50K.

This woman is being accused of taking petty cash from her employer and writing checks to herself, over a period of five years, while she was employed as an Office Manager. The total amount she is accused of stealing is $284,000.00. If convicted, she faces up to 73 years in Prison.

Embezzlement, also known as employee theft and employee fraud, falls under Penal Code 503, which falls under the umbrella of Penal Code 484 theft. Embezzlement is the way in which the theft was committed. It is defined as unlawfully taking something from another that has been entrusted to you. The difference between embezzlement and other types of thefts is the “entrusting”. In Penal Code 484, embezzlement is defined as: “Every person who shall fraudulently appropriate property that has been entrusted to him/her is guilty of theft”.

Although embezzlement is a form of theft, there are specific rules that apply to California embezzlement law. To be found guilty of this offense, the prosecutor must first prove three facts: (1) that you had a relationship of trust with the victim; (2) that, pursuant to the relationship, you were entrusted with certain property, and (3) that you specifically intended to deprive the victim of that property by fraudulently taking it as your own.

The penalties, punishment and sentence for a conviction of embezzlement depends upon whether you are charged with PC 487, grand theft (value of more than $950.00) or PC 488, petty theft (value of $950.00 or less). PC 487 Grand Theft is a “wobbler” meaning that it can be filed as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending upon the circumstances and your criminal history.

A conviction of misdemeanor grand theft exposes you to up to one year in county jail and a maximum fine of $1,000.00. A conviction of embezzlement as a felony exposes you to a sentence of 16 months, or two or three years in State prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.00. A conviction of petty theft embezzlement can mean a sentence of up to six months in jail and a maximum fine of up to $1,000.00.

In situations where the amount embezzled had a value of $50.00 or less, and you have no prior theft-related convictions, a good criminal defense attorney, with experience defending embezzlement cases, should explore the possibility of having your charge reduced to an infraction, and subjecting you to a maximum $250.00 fine.

A good embezzlement defense attorney will be familiar with the many legal defenses available and how to present them on your behalf. Some of the most common defenses an attorney might use are: (1) claim of right/good faith belief; (2) lack of criminal intent; (3) false accusations/innocence.

No matter how overwhelming the evidence may appear, your attorney should aggressively investigate the allegations, evaluate all of the evidence and search for inconsistencies and weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.

Anyone being accused of a crime in Orange County, California, should seek the advise of an attorney who is familiar with all the Courts in Orange County. An attorney who has a good working relationship with the individual Judges, District Attorneys, Court Clerks and Probation Department, as well as the Court staff, will be better able to get your charges reduced and/or dismissed. An attorney familiar with the Courts in which a case is pending will result in the best possible outcome available.

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