While white-collar crimes like embezzlement are common offenses in large metropolises like Los Angeles, most people get charged with this crime falsely. A colleague at the workplace could set you up out of revenge, and your boss could be trying to intimidate you by pressing charges against you, etc. Whatever the case may be, The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney is ready to take up the task of defending you. We will not rest until your voice is heard, and your case is possibly dropped or reduced.
What is Embezzlement?
Embezzlement is a form of theft of property or money by an individual entrusted with them. It happens when an individual mandated with the management of another person’s property or money takes it without the knowledge of the owner for their own gain.
In essence, the embezzler has legal access to the properties or monies belonging to another person but has no legal ownership to the same. When a person mandated with another’s property or cash takes it for his gain, the person is charged with embezzlement.
Under California law, embezzlement is not just about white-collar crimes that involve large sums of money committed by business executives. The charges under PEN 503 can be filed against any person found in various sorts of jobs and relationships and involve any amount of money and property.
The state would allow prosecution for embezzlement with a possible conviction even if the defendant had no intention of keeping the property or was temporarily borrowing it. Some cases where an individual can be charged with embezzlement include:
- A valet parking employee decides to lend his son one of the parked cars to go for an interview and return it after.
- When a caregiver caring for an elderly woman is asked to take some money to the bank. Instead, she picks a part of the money for herself.
- An accountant of an organization trusted with the organization’s funds decides to take some money from the organization to meet personal obligations.
Elements of Embezzlement
Embezzlement in California is defined based on various elements around the crime. These elements are the facts the prosecution must prove for an individual to be found guilty of embezzlement. The elements of embezzlement are:
- The property owner entrusted you with their property either through an agent or directly.
- The property owner trusted you and did that out of the trust
- You illegally used or changed the property for your gain and
- You did this intending to deprive the owner of the property or the use of it.
Below, we discuss in depth the various terms for better understanding.
A Trust Relationship
Charges of embezzlement will stick if it is established that the owner of the property trusted you, and entrusted you with their property as a result. Trust happens because:
- The owner of the property employed you
- The owner gave you the property as a “bailee,” meaning you had temporary custody of the said property. For instance, a mechanic that is left with the car for a short period to service it.
- You are a board member, a trustee, or a principal in an organization with the mandate to manage its properties and monies.
An example of a trust relationship
The office accountant is mandated to collect cash payments from the company and deposit the same to the bank. He finds he has personal issues and is unable to make ends meet. He figures he can be taking a few hundred dollar bills from the money he has been trusted to the bank to meet his obligations.
The accountant is in a trust relationship with his employer, and by his actions, he is guilty of embezzlement.
However, working for a particular employer is not proving trust in the relationship. This element can only be established if concrete evidence is produced of confidence or trust between the employee and employer.
For instance, if a janitor came across a safe and stole money, he cannot be charged with embezzlement. That is ordinary theft but not embezzlement. According to the state of California, because the company had no trust relationship with the janitor, he can only face theft charges but not embezzlement.
Fraudulent Take or Use of the Properties
In California, when the defendant illegally transfers or uses property not belonging to him or her for personal gain, it is when embezzlement occurs. An individual is found to have acted fraudulently when:
- They take advantage of the property owner
- Causes the property owner to suffer loss because of a breach of trust, duty, or confidence
Simply put, a defendant is only guilty of embezzlement PEN 503 if they made use of the property to gain and bring loss to the owner.
The Intention of Depriving the Owner Use of the Property
If you intentionally intended to deny the property owner of its use, whether temporarily or permanently, you could be guilty of embezzlement.
For instance, there are two workers in an organization that are rivals. Worker A thinks worker B should be fired. However, the boss seems to like worker B. One day, worker B makes a huge sale and as usual, puts the money in the company safe.
Worker A wants to get worker B fired and so goes to the safe and hides the money so that the colleague is found in trouble and gets fired. Worker A is guilty of embezzlement even though he did not intend to use the money.
PEN 503 Embezzlement Penalties
Penalties under the embezzlement Penal Code depend on the kind and value attached to the property alleged to have been embezzled. Various types attract different penalties and are found in multiple sections of the law. Below, we discuss different embezzlement types and the penalties they attract.
Penalties as Grand Theft
Under the California law, the penalties for grand theft PEN 487 crime are faced if the property alleged to be embezzled is:
- Valued above $950
- A vehicle where the embezzlement is charged as grand theft auto under PEN 487(d)(1)
- A firearm where the embezzlement takes the form of grand theft firearm.
Also, if a person keeps taking small amounts of money from your employer without their permission and it totals to $950 in a year, that is embezzlement. This behavior will attract a grand theft embezzlement charge against the individual.
In the state of California, Grand theft embezzlement is a wobbler offense. It can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor subject to the following:
- The criminal background of the defendant
- The circumstances under which the crime was committed.
If the property alleged to have been embezzled is a firearm, grand theft embezzlement will carry felony penalties.
If it is charged as a misdemeanor, the penalties for grand theft embezzlement are:
- A misdemeanor summary probation that typically is between one to three years and in some cases, up to 5 years. During the probation period, a defendant is given certain conditions to comply with, such as paying restitution or doing community labor.
- Face a county jail time of up to a year and or
- Paying a fine not exceeding $1,000.
If charged as a felony, penalties for grand theft embezzlement except in the cases of firearms are:
- Felony probation typically lasts between three to five years. If the probationer violates the terms of probation, the judge has a right to revoke the probation and send him or her to jail. The defendant is expected to pay restitution as well as do time in prison.
- 16 months, or 24 months, or 36 months in county jail
- Pay a fine not exceeding $10,000
If charged with firearm grand theft embezzlement, the penalties are:
- Sentenced to serve a formal felony probation time
- Serve 16 months or 24 months or 36 months in a state prison
- Paying a fine not exceeding $10,000
Also, if the victim suffered a colossal loss in monetary value, you face another consecutive sentence if found guilty of felony embezzlement.
In the event of highly valued property felony embezzlement, the enhancement sentencing may include:
- Another one year in jail if the property was valued at over $65,000
- Additional two years if the property was valued at over $200,000
- Further three years if the property was valued over one million, three hundred thousand dollars and
- Other four years if the property was valued over three million, two hundred thousand dollars
Embezzlement as Petty Theft
In California, there are embezzlement charges that do not meet grand theft as defined in the law. This kind of theft is punishable under PEN 488.
Petty theft is charged as a misdemeanor with the following penalties:
- Face a misdemeanor probation
- Jail time at the county jail of up to 6 months
- Paying a fine not exceeding $1,000
In the process of determining your felony embezzlement, the judge can give you harsher penalties if your victim was elderly or a person with a disability. These kinds of facts are referred to as aggravating factors.
Should this be the case, the defendant is likely to face additional charges under PEN 368 elder abuse.
Should you out of your own volition decide to return the embezzled property before being charged with PEN 503, the judge might be lenient in the judgment.
Possible Legal Defenses for Embezzlement Charges
Getting an attorney immediately is your best option to prepare for defense and possibly reduce the charges or get them dismissed.
Some of the possible defenses for an embezzlement charge include:
In good faith, you believed you had rights to the property
Based on the California law on embezzlement, a defendant is not guilty if he or she thought in good faith, they had a right over the property they took. For this defense to stick, there must be truth in:
- You acquired possession openly and did not hide what you were doing with the property
- You never assumed ownership of the property due to a debt you were owed by the owner
For instance: if a person died naming their caregiver as the administrator of their estate and left several drafts of the will, there could be a confusion of the valid one. If the administrator picks on one that leaves all the jewelry to her and even gifts it. The other beneficiaries can get upset and accuse her of embezzlement. The administrator can defend herself on the grounds of good faith because she believed she had rights to the jewelry.
You had no criminal intent
The laws of California require before a person is convicted of embezzlement that the prosecution must provide evidence that the defendant had the intention to deny the use of the property to the owner.
It is not easy to prove criminal intent. When a person is accused of embezzlement, a lot of paper trails and financial details are involved. In some cases, an act that looked like embezzlement may be an honest mistake on the defendant’s side.
A defendant can be falsely accused of embezzlement. Cases of false accusations are common, and in most cases, the victim and defendant had prior personal or business relationships. In some cases, a victim may be seeking revenge against the defendant over a business deal that went wrong or is seeking a scapegoat for their financial woes.
If this is the case, it is essential to gather the appropriate evidence and to talk to the relevant people. With an excellent criminal defense attorney, the defendant can be set free when the real story comes to light.
Related Embezzlement Charges
In California, along with PEN 503 charges, other offenses can be charged alongside it. They include:
PEN 470 – Forgery
California’s forgery law falls under PEN 470, making it a criminal offense to knowingly create, alter, or make use of a written document to commit fraud.
If a person does this, he or she could be charged with both embezzlement and forgery. For instance, if a person signs their boss’s name on a check without their authority, it is a forgery. If this person proceeds to cash the check, they risk being charged with embezzlement.
PEN 470 is a wobbler offense, meaning it can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony. If charged as a misdemeanor, the defendant might face a county jail time of up to a year. On the other hand, if charged as a felony, the defendant can face 16 months, two years, or three years in jail.
PEN 459 – Burglary
Under California law, burglary is defined as entering any structure with the intention to commit theft or felony while inside.
For instance, if an individual may have purposed to enter a private home or an office where they are employed with the intent to embezzle funds. This person, when found, might be charged with both burglary and embezzlement.
Under PEN 459, burglary is a wobbler offense. If the defendant entered a structure not occupied, it is a second-degree burglary, and if the structure is occupied, it is the first-degree burglary charged as a felony.
Criminal fraud is committed when the actions of an individual result in unfair gain to themselves, and or causes loss or harm to another.
Various types of fraud are charged as embezzlement, while others are charged under specific laws. They include:
- Real estate fraud
- Check fraud
- Insurance fraud
- Mail fraud
Insurance fraud under California law is when an individual tries to get insurance payments or compensation they are not entitled to. There are many types of insurance fraud violations; some are:
- Automobile Insurance fraud
A person might face embezzlement and fraud charges if they tried to fraudulently obtain money from their auto insurance by:
- Making up an accident
- Inflating their claim amount
- Burning your vehicle and claiming it stolen
- Health Insurance Fraud
Some of the people that may get prosecuted for fraud and embezzlement are doctors, equipment suppliers, hospital employees, pharmacists, etc. This may happen when:
- They charge for medical services they never provided
- They get commissions for prescribing specific drugs
- Overbilling for services rendered
Real Estate Fraud
Real Estate fraud is common in California and can also be charged alongside Embezzlement. Some Real Estate and Mortgage fraud offenses in California include:
- Foreclosure fraud
- Laws against forgery of deeds
- Illegal property flipping laws
- Rent Skimming laws, among others
Mail fraud is a federal offense. It involves using the postal system to commit fraudulent activities. This is done by:
- Advertising fraudulent services by using mail
- Using mail to send forged checks
- Refuse to deliver products ordered through mail intentionally.
Fraud is very detailed, with many aspects of fraud offenses that can lead to embezzlement charges.
PEN 424 Misappropriations of Public Funds
The misappropriation of public funds is charged under PEN 424. It is an offense that is closely related to embezzlement.
This offense happens when a person controlling government funds, in most cases, an employee of the government, uses or lends out funds belonging to the government without authority. Similarly, a person found to create false financial records or intentionally deletes or alters financial records on government funds is also charged with this offense.
For a person to be convicted with misappropriating public funds, the prosecutor must prove:
- That the defendant was aware that their behavior was illegal or
- By failure to find out if it was illegal, the person showed criminal negligence.
It is important to note that the law does not apply in cases of incidental or minimal misappropriation of money. Misappropriating public funds is prosecuted as a felony, and the defendant faces state imprisonment or either 2 or 3 or 4 years.
Expungement After Conviction
Under PEN 1203.4, a person that was convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor can have their records expunged. This is where your records can be erased or hidden from databases because of institutions that carry out criminal checks on an individual.
Although the records may not be accessible to the public, they will be available to the law enforcement officers and can be used:
- For increasing your sentencing if you are convicted of committing another felony
- Evaluate you should you seek for a job in the public domain, military, or law enforcement post.
However, to qualify for expungement, a person should not have been sentenced to state prison. If you were convicted of grand theft embezzlement felony and jailed in state prison, you will not qualify but can get other post-conviction relief.
Fortunately, if you get convicted a felony under PEN 503 wobbler, through your lawyer, you can ask the judge to decrease your conviction. With a misdemeanor conviction, you can apply to have your record erased under PEN 17(b)(3).
It is essential to get your records expunged. Having been convicted of a misdemeanor should not take your civil rights away. However, certain employers or schools or landlords may view it as embezzlement. This will affect their decision to promote you or employ, get college placement, or allow you to lease their property.
If you got convicted under PEN 503 but were not jailed in state prison, you can get your records expunged. Your lawyer can apply for it but for the court to accept, you must have complied with the following:
- You successfully ensured completion of the conditions set forth with your probation
- Ensure there are no pending criminal charges against you
- You have no prior record of felony offenses.
Should you be granted expungement, you can:
- State to have never been convicted of any felony under oath during other court proceedings or on other legal documents. However, if facing other subsequent felony offenses or seeking a job as a public servant, you cannot state not to have been previously convicted.
- On can indicate on any employment or application for a rental property that you hold no misdemeanor or felony convictions
- If you want to apply for a position in law enforcement, you will be allowed but must disclose the previous sentence.
- You are cleared to apply for any state-issued licenses like contractor’s or real estate license.
After completing your probation time, through your lawyer, you are allowed to ask for expungement immediately. However, if you were not given probation but a county jail time, you will have to wait for one year from conviction date before applying.
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
The fact that embezzlement is a white-collar crime means that a person could face professional consequences if convicted, such as loss of a job, alongside the court fines and assessments. You should consider having expert legal representation if you want to minimize the chances of a criminal conviction for embezzlement. If you are looking for an expert criminal lawyer out of LA to fight for you, please contact The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney at 310-564-2605 today!