Criminal and civil allegations of embezzlement in any industry can lead to significant consequences, particularly because allegations that you improperly appropriated property to which you were entrusted can result in charges under both state and federal law. Unfortunately, even honest mistakes can result in an investigation that may jeopardize your reputation, career, and livelihood. After spending so much time, money, and dedication on your career, it is crucial to have an aggressive but creative legal defense team on your side to protect your rights. The best time to handle these cases if possible is before they are filed. For example, if repayment were made before charges were filed, that could be a defense to any future filings. However, intending to repay is not a defense.
If you are under investigation or facing charges for misappropriating assets from your employer, a relative, public agency, a client or any third party, the criminal defense lawyers at Green & Associates can provide the aggressive, experienced legal representation you need to have the charges against you handled through a civil settlement, by repayment and/or by having the charges reduced or dismissed. Do not put off calling (213) 233-2260 to speak with a knowledgeable attorney about your legal options and rights. Through an in-depth consultation, you will be able to make an informed decision about your case.
What is Embezzlement?
There are a number of statutes under which embezzlement cases can be filed under state and federal laws. Embezzlement is essentially a type of theft and under California Penal Code Section 503, embezzlement is defined as a type of theft in which one party is entrusted with assets, such as personal property or money, and he or she uses fraud, manipulation, or deceit to acquire the assets for personal benefit. There are many statutes under which embezzlement can be charged and it depends on the relationship the individual had with the other party (such as employee, elderly caretaker, attorney, accountant, elected official, and so on. Sample state charges include embezzlement, theft by false pretenses, theft by trick, theft by employee or agent, forgery, identity theft, grand theft, etc. Sample federal charges include mail fraud, wire fraud, thefy by honest services, forgery, identity theft, etc. These same allegations can also support a civil lawsuit with a claim of "conversion."
In order to prove grand theft, the government must provide that an individual took possession of property owned by someone else, took the property without the owner's (or owner's agent's) consent, intended to deprive the owner of possession for a period of time or permanently, and moved or kept the property for any period of time, however brief. Embezzlement is a variation in that it also requires proof that the individual was entrusted with this property by the owner or owner's agent. Common types of embezzlement include:
- Falsifying payroll or overtime records
- Inflating or falsifying claims for expenses
- Receiving payments or gifts from company vendors (kickbacks)
- Withdrawing funds without approval from clients, employers, customers, or other individuals or companies
- Billing for nonexistent employees
- Paying family members for services or work not performed
- Paying personal bills with a company or employer check
- Persuading an elderly or disabled person to make gifts or payments to you or obtaining authority to pay yourself
- Paying third party companies in which you have a personal interet
- Paying your personal bills with company, employer or customer checksBorrowing funds without permission from your employer, customer, client or third party
In our practice, in state court we often see that grand theft is charged and then the alternative theories such as embezzlement will be charged. In order to be charged with embezzling, the alleged criminal actions must meet the following criteria:
- An owner (or owner's agent) entrusted his property to the alleged suspect. For example, an accountant is entrusted with various assets on behalf of his or her employer or his clients.
- The owner (or owner's agent) did so because he trusted the alleged suspect.
- The alleged suspect fraudulently converted or used that property ofr his or her own benefit.
- When the alleged suspect converted or used the property, he or she intended to deprive the owner of its use.
- The alleged suspect cannot prove that he or she was acting in good faith, considering all the facts known to him or her at the time. This is known as a good faith defense. Even if the belief is mistaken or unreasonable, it can be a defense unless that belief is "completely unreasonable."
What are the Consequences of Embezzlement in California?
As a white collar crime, a charge and conviction for theft, fraud or embezzlement carries serious penalties that can devastate an individual's professional and personal life. Depending on the circumstances and the amount of the fraudulent claims, embezzlement may qualify as a misdemeanor or a felony crime in California, which may result in the following penalties:
- Jail Time - Depending on whether the fraud was committed on a state or federal level, an individual may receive probation, county jail or a state or federal prison sentence of six months to 20 years. Lengthy sentences are unlikely unless there are significant loss amounts and multiple victims. In the event that a person suffers serious injury or death as a result of the fraud, the individual could face other enhancements or may face additional charges.
- Restitution and Fines - In plea negotiations, the ability to pay restitution is often the most significant factor in obtaining a favorable result. If the case proceeds to trial or sentence, a judge will order the offending provider to pay back the amount of money obtained through fraud as well as significant fines for violating state or federal laws. The sum amounts to the amounts taken and can range from small amounts to millions of dollars but the amount of restitution is often disputed and can be the subject of a separate hearing.
- Loss of License - Professionals may have discipline imposed on their license to practice, such as real estate agents, nurses, engineers, architects or accountants, temporarily or permanently, depending on the mitigating and aggravating factors and whether the licensee or professional has shown true rehabilitation.
- Permanent Criminal Record - With an embezzlement-related charge on your record, you may be unable to secure employment in a similar field. In state court, expungements and reductions to misdemeanors can be obtained where no state prison time was served. While in federal court, there are no expungements.
- Loss of Employment - An investigation and charges alone can lead to the loss of employment. This is one reason why we urge individuals to address these issues early and not wait for criminal charges.
- Civil Judgment - If there is a sentence, that can be used to obtain a civil judgment enforceable in state court that can be recorded against your property, bank accounts and spouse's accounts since California is a community property state. This is one reason why any plea agreements should be carefully negotiated so that a "no contest" plea and other factors are included so it does not serve as collateral estoppel or as the basis of a civil judgment.
Fighting Embezzlement Charges
If you are facing an investigation for embezzlement related charges in Los Angeles, even if it is simply at a civil or company level, contact Green & Associates immediately. Our attorneys have a keen understanding of the criminal and civil justice system and will put our extensive experience and resources into getting the best possible outcome for every one of our clients. We are not intimidated by complex cases. Contact us online or call (213) 233-2260 today.