Embezzlement: the Reality, Consequences, and Defense
Being convicted of embezzlement is no laughing matter in California. Even being accused of embezzling a relatively low value can end up having consequences that follow a person for the rest of his life.
If you are suspected of any type of criminal offense, including embezzlement, do not try to defend yourself. Being accused of embezzlement is serious, but it is not the end of the world if you have a tough, experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer to protect you.
What Is Embezzlement?
Embezzlement is a particular form of theft that involves taking something with which you were entrusted. While many people think of a corporate officer stealing millions of dollars from employee retirement funds, embezzlement can happen many other ways, too. For example, an employee taking a company car without permission, or taking money from overnight deposits before taking them to the bank, would also be considered embezzlement.
How Is Embezzlement Proven?
In California, there are four specific elements that need to be proven by the prosecution in an embezzlement case. They are:
- The owner of the property entrusted the property to the defendant.
- The owner did this because he or she trusted the defendant.
- The defendant fraudulently used or converted that property in some way for his or her own benefit or gain.
- When the defendant used or converted the property, it was done with the intent to deprive the owner of that property’s use or value.
All four of these elements must be proven together to show that embezzlement occurred.
How Is Embezzlement Punished?
Embezzlement, like many other theft crimes in California, can be charged two ways, depending on the value of what was taken. This impacts not only the charge itself, but also the penalties for a conviction. It is worth noting that a high-value charge of embezzlement is technically a “wobbler” that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, but it is typically charged as a felony.
The two ways embezzlement can be charged and penalized are:
- If the value of the embezzled item or money is $950 or less, the embezzlement is charged as petty theft, which is a misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
- If the value of the embezzled item or money is more than $950, the embezzlement is typically charged as grand theft, which is a felony, with a maximum sentence of 3 years in jail.
How Do I Defend Against an Embezzlement Charge?
Defenses against an embezzlement charge are designed to attack one or more of the four elements necessary to prove that embezzlement occurred. If one of them is false, the entire charge is false. The nature of a defense will depend on the specific circumstances of the situation, which is why hiring an experienced defense attorney right away is so important.
For example, consider a situation in which an employee is given access to a company credit card by his employer and told to use it for professional purposes. The employee uses the card to spend thousands of dollars on food, drinks, and a venue to throw a party for the employees of the company. His employers might say that money was stolen if they never gave specific permission to throw the party, and try to charge the employee with embezzlement.
If a defense attorney can show that permission was given to use the money on business expenses, and that all the expenses made were for employees, then the money was spent in good faith. Even if the employers were not happy with how much was spent, embezzlement did not occur.
Do I Really Need a Lawyer?
Yes, you absolutely need a lawyer to defend you if you have been charged with embezzlement. It’s one thing to lose your job because your employer is unhappy with you, but facing jail time and a criminal record can have a negative impact on the rest of your life. If you are being charged with grand theft embezzlement (a felony), a conviction can eliminate employment opportunities, take away your right to vote, and destroy other chances for success that you have in the future.
There is no room to mess around with an embezzlement charge. The legal system is complicated and the stakes are as high as they come. If you or someone you know has been charged with embezzlement, call a top Los Angeles white collar crime defense attorney at Werksman Jackson Hathaway & Quinn LLP. Please call (213) 688-0460 to set up a free consultation and find out what we can do for you.