Embezzlement is a particular kind of theft – planned, methodical, and stealthy. Embezzlement is also betrayal – the abuse of someone’s trust. Successful embezzlements remain undiscovered for weeks and even months, and some embezzlements may never be discovered.
Because of mistakes and misunderstandings, innocent people can be accused of embezzlement. However, it can be difficult to fight an embezzlement charge in California, even if you’re innocent. Can a Los Angeles embezzlement lawyer help?
PRECISELY HOW IS EMBEZZLEMENT DEFINED?
If someone takes property or money without the owner’s consent and means to keep that property or money, it’s theft. But if you temporarily have someone’s property or money because you’ve been asked to hold or watch it, and you steal the money or property, it’s embezzlement.
Embezzlers usually take great care to conceal the crime. They typically embezzle only a fraction of the resources or funds entrusted to them to minimize the possibility of detection. When they succeed, embezzlers can operate for years without discovery.
Lackadaisical accounting practices are a big temptation to embezzlers. Unless the accounting is meticulous, embezzlement probably won’t be uncovered quickly.
Practically anybody can be victimized by embezzlement, but as you might guess, financial institutions make tempting targets for embezzlers. The offense is a federal crime if the victim is a bank or any other agency owned or regulated by the United States government.
EXACTLY WHAT CHARGES CAN EMBEZZLERS FACE IN CALIFORNIA?
Here in California, hinging on the amount of money or property that is embezzled, the charge can be filed as either grand theft or petty theft:
- Grand theft is the charge when the property or money embezzled is valued above $950. A grand theft charge in California may be filed as a misdemeanor or as a felony.
- Embezzlements for amounts less than $950 are prosecuted as misdemeanor petty thefts.
Before 2014, when Proposition 47 was approved by California’s voters, all firearm and vehicle thefts in California were charged as grand theft. However, grand theft now is charged in these cases only when a firearm or a vehicle is worth at least $950.
To recap, California law provides for three possible embezzlement charges:
- felony grand theft
- misdemeanor grand theft
- misdemeanor petty theft
HOW SERIOUS IS AN EMBEZZLEMENT CHARGE?
Understand, however, that even petty theft is considered a serious crime in this state, and jail time is a genuine possibility for anyone who is convicted of any embezzlement or any other theft.
If you face any charge of embezzlement in the greater Los Angeles area, you must reach out immediately to an experienced and reliable criminal defense attorney.
Exactly how does embezzlement work? Embezzlers typically forge or alter financial account records to “skim” and then to conceal assets. Embezzlement may not be discovered without a complete financial audit.
HOW WILL A LAW FIRM DEFEND YOU AGAINST AN EMBEZZLEMENT CHARGE?
Of course, not every embezzlement suspect is guilty. Mistakes and misunderstandings sometimes lead to wrongful embezzlement charges, and embezzlers often commit the crime in a way that points the blame at someone who’s innocent.
If you are charged with embezzlement in California, a prosecutor must prove your guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” to win a conviction against you. A good defense lawyer can usually find a flaw in the state’s case, exploit that flaw, and cast doubt on the state’s evidence against you.
If you’re charged with any embezzlement crime in southern California – whether it’s a felony or a misdemeanor, at the federal level or at the state level – immediately contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer who has substantial experience with embezzlement cases.
WHAT MUST THE PROSECUTION PROVE IN AN EMBEZZLEMENT CASE?
If you handle large sums on a regular basis – or if you deal with or handle any part of the record-keeping for those sums – you probably, occasionally make a mistake. That doesn’t make you a criminal.
To convict someone for embezzlement, the prosecution must prove that:
- The victim and defendant had a fiduciary relationship.
- The defendant took advantage of the relationship to take money and/or property.
- The embezzlement was consciously and intentionally committed.
The distinction between embezzlement and larceny is that embezzlers were allowed by the owner to possess or access the assets or other items that were embezzled. In contrast, larceny is the direct appropriation of assets or property without the owner’s permission.
WHO CAN BE ACCUSED OF EMBEZZLEMENT?
Because embezzlement is a betrayal, people in positions of trust are charged with embezzlement, framed for it, and sometimes are convicted of it. Bankers, accountants, trustees, attorneys, and public officials are often suspected of – and are sometimes accused of – embezzlement schemes.
But anyone trusted with another party’s property or money can be accused of embezzlement, and any person who entrusts another party with property or money could be victimized by embezzlement.
WHAT ARE THIS STATE’S PENALTIES FOR AN EMBEZZLEMENT CONVICTION?
These are the potential penalties for anyone who is convicted of embezzlement by a California state court:
- A felony conviction for grand theft is punishable with as much as three years in state prison, a fine of as much as $10,000, and formal probation.
- A misdemeanor conviction for grand theft is punishable with up to one year in custody, a fine of $1,000, and summary probation.
- A misdemeanor conviction for petty theft is punishable with up to six months in custody, a fine of as much as $1,000, and misdemeanor probation.
WHAT ARE THE FEDERAL PENALTIES FOR EMBEZZLEMENT CONVICTIONS?
Federal charges for embezzlement are filed as fraud charges – wire fraud, mail fraud, bank fraud, or securities fraud. At the federal level:
- If the money or property embezzled is valued at over $1,000, it’s a felony, and a conviction may be penalized with a fine of $250,000 and/or up to ten years in a federal prison.
- If the money or property embezzled is valued at or below $1,000, it’s a misdemeanor, and a conviction may be penalized with a $100,000 fine and/or up to a year in jail.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD YOU KNOW ABOUT EMBEZZLEMENT?
A court may additionally require the payment of restitution to a victim of embezzlement, and a victim may seek compensation with a civil court action entirely distinct from the prosecution in the criminal courts.
Sometimes a simple accounting mistake can look a lot like embezzlement. Innocent people are accused of embezzlement for a number of reasons, but if you are the person charged with embezzlement, you must obtain the help of a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney – at once.