Misappropriation of public funds involves someone in a public office, responsible for public funds, then unlawfully misusing them. A conviction for misappropriation of public funds could result in lengthy imprisonment, a hefty fine, among other devastating penalties. Hiring a knowledgeable lawyer could help obtain a lesser sentence or even dismissal of your charges. At The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney, we have the most experienced lawyers who serve Los Angeles clients.
Our lawyers could help secure favorable results for you or your loved one when facing misappropriation of public funds charges. Thanks to our experience in handling white-collar crimes, we can build quality legal defenses that could cast doubts in the prosecution evidence.
Definition of Misappropriation of Public Funds
Misuse of public funds is the intentional, illegal act of using available public funds for personal use or unrelated public benefit. In Los Angeles, misappropriation is usually chargeable against California state public officials, local officials, and any other person with access to, care, and control over government funds.
Who is a Public Officer?
California PC 424 defines a public officer as any employee, California state official, or local government organization entrusted with public funds. Public officers include: appointed, elected, lawyer, accountant, or someone without a government job, but has custody and control over public money.
Examples of Misappropriation of Public Funds
- When someone runs a nonprofit organization that derives its funds from the government, then transfers the organization's money account to their account for personal use.
- When a mayor of a small growing town spends public money to buy an apartment for their wife.
- When the head of the treasury in a public office spends the money to fund a sick mother.
Variety of Misusing Public Funds.
Public funds come from the state, local, and federal government and should be usable for society's common good rather than benefiting a private individual. Intentional misuse or misappropriation of money is a criminal act. There are various types of public trust positions in Los Angeles and numerous ways of misusing public funds. However, Panel Code 424 on misappropriation of public funds comes with a variety of specific forms. Different varieties of PC 424 violations are:
Misuse of Public Funds Without Proper Authority
In California, public funds misuse without proper authority involve obtaining public funds and using them for personal benefits or distributing them unlawfully to other people without legal consent. The prosecution must prove the offender intentionally disobeyed the law and used the money to benefit themselves.
For offenders to face conviction, the prosecutor must show they are officers of the local government or state managing, receiving, distributing, or transferring public funds. The officers may include appointed officials, elected officials, or hired government workers. Moreover, the charge applies to anybody not employed by the government but has control over government funds through another person.
In most cases, the offender obtains the money for personal use. The offender may give a family member or a friend to benefit from the money. It doesn't make any difference before the law concerning the money recipient, as long as its acquisition was illegal. For the offender to be guilty of the crime, they must have known the law disallowed their action in distributing the funds or displayed criminal negligence.
Creation of False Accounts, Destroying Accounts or Altering Accounts
Creating fraudulent accounts to defraud other people is a way of violating public funds under PC 424. Accordingly, the crime involves knowingly making or keeping partial or full records on public money usage. The crime covers entering false information in a public record, changing already present information from true to false, or deleting the right information.
Alternatively, destroying or altering an account identified for public funds is a violation of PC 424 as long as the offender intends. Alongside keeping false information about public funds, there should be an accompanying reason for defrauding the government funds' rightful recipients from receiving them.
Failing to Transfer or Pay Public Funds When Required
The offender risks criminal conviction if they willingly refuse or fail to transfer or pay public funds when the law requires them to do so, they will face charges of misappropriation of public funds under 424 PC. Upon submitting a valid warrant, draft, or order for public monies to the authority, a person asking the offender to release government funds following the law will be a criminal offense for failing to comply. However, the offender must have been aware their actions were criminally negligent or illegal in not knowing before they were convicted.
Profiting or Loaning Public Funds Without Authority
Profiting from public funds includes lending the money out to acquire a significant interest or using the money to benefit from them. In California, no public officer should loan out public funds to gain profits from them. When you illegally used public funds to achieve profits knowingly, you are guilty of misappropriating public funds.
Profiting or making unauthorized loans is a misappropriation of public funds according to 424 PC. To prove the offender guilty, the prosecutor must prove the following:
- The offender either knew the act was illegal or criminally negligent in failing to find whether the loaning or profiting was unlawful.
- The offender was not supposed to use public money or loan under certain circumstances.
- They loaned public money in a manner not authorized by the law.
- The offender is an officer of local, federal, state, or entrusted with the receipt, handling, or safekeeping of public funds.
Knowledge of criminal negligence is among the essential elements of the misappropriation of public money. For the offender to be guilty under California PC 424, they should have either:
- Acted with criminal negligence by disregarding any reasonable steps in discovering whether the conduct was against the law.
- Knew, the act was against the law for them to appropriate funds in the manner they did.
The prosecution must prove the offender was criminally negligent.
Appropriating Public Funds
Appropriating public funds is using the money for your benefit or other persons' personal needs. For instance, Johnson is the finance officer of child protective services. The government funds the agency. Johnson has access to the institution's money. When his wife faces a criminal offense, Johnson decides to use some money from the agency in paying a lawyer to represent his wife. Therefore, Johnson is guilty of misappropriating public funds since he used public funds for personal benefit.
What Prosecutor Must Prove for Misappropriation of Public Funds
In California, PC 424 offenders may cover their tracks making prosecutors face challenges when building a case against them. However, the prosecution must build a case by any means. Therefore, prosecutors must prove the offender violated panel code 424 through:
The Offender Had an Obligation to Handle Public Funds
The prosecution might depend on the documents highlighting the job responsibility of the offender as evidence. The prosecution team will have more leverage once they discover the offender manages public money during the time of the crime. Once the prosecution fails to prove the fact, then criminal proceedings can't begin.
The Offender Made False Entries or Created False Accounts on Existing Accounts
The prosecution will consider using a bank statement of an altered account or a newly opened account in developing their case against the offender. A comparison between current bank statements and previous bank statements may prove that an account was changed. PC 424 considers making false entries or fake accounts as misappropriation of public funds.
The Offender Fraudulently Utilized or Took Money for Personal Benefits
Under PC424, it's illegal to appropriate public monies for offenders' use or someone's use. Additionally, it is unlawful to generate profits or loan money without any authorization. Prosecutors may use proof of product offenders purchased for themselves or other people using public funds. Payment receipts and bank statements will be justifiable evidence.
When the Offender Refused to Pay or Transfer the Money to the Intended Destination
When the offender refuses to hand over funds to their respective destination, they may face charges. Prosecutors need to provide order, drafts, and subpoena that mandated the offender to transfer the public money in their possession. Additionally, prosecutors may gather information from expert witnesses, public officers, and individuals expecting to receive the money to testify against the offender.
The Offender Had Breached the Obligation of Their Job
In Los Angeles, formal jobs require candidates to agree to specific terms before being hired. A condition in the employment contract may prohibit candidates from misusing public funds. The prosecution team will read the clause in the offender's employment contract they breached when they violated PC 424 offenses. The strategy will work when the offender willingly signed the agreement as they were receiving the job.
What are the Penalties for Misappropriation of Public Funds In California?
Penalties are punishment imposed for breaking the law or a contract. However, the penalties vary depending on the committed crime. In California, misappropriation of public funds is a crime punishable under penal code 424. The potential penalties for misuse of public funds include:
- Imprisonment in state prison for up to 4 years.
- Formal probation
- A maximum fine of up to 10,000 USD.
When the offender has a prior criminal record, mostly with other theft crimes, they can result in harsher sentences. Once convicted with the offense, you will have limitations from holding any public office in California, whether at the local or state level.
Legal Defenses for Misappropriation of Public Funds
Facing criminal offense charges could be intimidating and stressful, especially if you are up against government power. When prosecuted with a criminal offense, you risk losing your career. Additionally, you have a terrible criminal record and a bad reputation. Although having accusations for misappropriation does not mean you will be found guilty of the crime. We have several defense strategies that we use to challenge prosecution cases against misappropriation charges. Discussed below are the legal defenses that can help argue your innocence.
Lack of Intent in Misappropriating The Funds
To face conviction of misappropriation of public funds, There must be evidence that you intended and willfully used the public money. Your attorney can present evidence showing you used the money for their intended purpose. Examples of evidence include payment receipts or bank statements. The evidence should prove money usage in financing the project as directed by the supervisors. Your attorney can assert that you did not realize your actions were illegal, and you didn't intend to misuse them. As long as you're honest, you can rely on the 'mistake of fact ' legal defense as your legal defense in court.
You Did Not Act with Criminal Negligence and Had No Knowledge
Under penal code 424 PC, you're guilty of misappropriating public funds when you knew your conduct was illegal. If you made no attempts in hiding whatever you were doing, credible defense of lack of knowledge is applicable. However, when you were criminally negligent in knowing whether your conduct was illegal, this could be considered negligence.
Criminal negligence has higher accountability as compared to ordinary negligence. To face conviction, the prosecutor should provide proof you acted recklessly. However, it is challenging to prove a high degree of negligence and actual knowledge. If you had honest belief your conduct was lawful, you can't be guilty of misappropriating public funds. Your defense attorney would defeat your charges based on a lack of criminal negligence.
The Amount of Public Funds Spent was Incidental or Minimal
Penal code 424 only regards misappropriation of public funds as a criminal act involving sums of money exceeding the minimum threshold. When the misappropriated amount was considerable, the defendant can't face conviction. However, a substantial amount depends on the circumstances.
For example, William works at a private institution funded by the government. In September, the entity received twenty million dollars. However, William spends 10,000 USD to fund his shop. The amount of misappropriation was minimal compared to funding that the company receives. However, William is guilty of embezzlement.
Funds Did Not Qualify to be Public Funds
Public funds refer to the money from the government for helping the public gain certain services and goods. The government derives cash from revenue generation methods, including licensing, fine payment, and taxation. Your attorney can claim the money spent did not come from the government. Furthermore, the legal experts can also prove the funds spent weren't for any public member.
You Committed the Crime Under Duress
California law may pardon you upon realizing you committed the crime with a reasonable belief your life is in danger. Your attorney may claim that a third party threatened you to embezzle the funds to their particular account. Examples of evidence that can prove your innocence include text messages and recorded calls. The court may dismiss your charges and prosecute the right perpetrator.
You Acted Out of Necessity
Your charges may reduce if you spend the money to avoid more significant consequences. For example, you choose to avoid potential fraud attempts of the funds by so spending them. The defense may work for you if you tried approaching authorities, and they didn't respond, or you didn't have adequate time for reporting the matter.
You Were a Victim of Entrapment
Entrapment is one of the most common white-collar defenses. Often entrapment occurs when the police originate from a criminal act and then induce the accused to enhance it. If your attorney can prove that the law enforcement officers caused the illegal activity, and if the police officers would not entrap you, you could not overtake the act. This is considered entrapment. The defense must show that the police actions would have induced an ordinary law-abiding citizen to commit the crime.
For instance, when law entrapment officers pretend to be an illegal drug dealer and make arrangements to buy drugs from you, however, you've made it clear to him that you're not interested in participating in fraud schemes. If agents pressurized your participation, you can make a reasonable argument for entrapment.
A Victim of Mistaken Identity
Mistaken identity is a useful defense for white-collar crimes. A hasty investigation may have led the police to you. The attorney may help you argue out if the police identified you mistakenly were identified through assumption. For instance, you work in a bank in the accounting department, and you are chargeable with funds you didn't take. However, since you work in the accounting department, it is assumed that you took it.
Lack of Enough Evidence From the Prosecution
Every case requires compelling evidence. Criminal cases without sufficient evidence can lead to dismissal of your charges in Los Angeles.
Is Misappropriation the Same As Embezzlement?
Embezzlement and misuse of public funds both hinge on the unlawful use of another person's assets, mostly in a business setting. Misappropriations refer to embezzlement of money and not any other form of property.
For example, a company treasurer who diverts the company money to his account has embezzled and misappropriated the money. Alternatively, embezzlement involves taking property that you already possess, but you don't own. For instance, when a person entrusted with controlling someone else's property misuses the property. Embezzlement entails both money and other stuff.
Related Crimes to Misappropriation of Public Funds
Alongside the misappropriation of public monies, we have other related white-collar crimes. The other associated crimes involve crimes committed through deceit to gain money or other assets. However, prosecuting the crimes is not an easy task as the perpetrators take knowledgeable steps to hide their illegal acts making it challenging to detect.
Although the offenses are almost similar, they have varying charges depending on the committed crime and circumstances surrounding each. Similar offenses to misappropriation of public funds include:
Bribing a Public Official
Bribing involves offering, receiving, soliciting, or giving money to influence the action of an official or any other person managing a public entity. Bribing or attempting to bribe government officials is chargeable against the specific employees or others. Offering property or money to a public official to make them act illegally is a violation of pc 67 or 68. the crime can be either a misdemeanor or a felony. However, the offense is a felony when committed by a government employee.
Embezzlement is the fraudulent misappropriation of property or funds by a person in a position of trust. Additionally, embezzlement also concerns misusing private funds. However, in various cases, you are charged when embezzling public property. An example of embezzlement is when an employee funnels company money to their bank accounts.
Forgery involves making, altering, possessing, or using falsified documents like a contract, check, or any other form to defraud the document's recipient. Notably, forgery includes the victim creating a signature that is not their own with an intent to defraud others, for example, signing a check with the name of another person to cash it.
Fraud occurs when a person misrepresents facts to gain something in return. The deceit should be intentional and made for causing the victim to take action upon the facts. A crime of fraud includes certain elements such as:
- The perpetrator had an intent in making the false statement.
- The perpetrator prepared a statement of facts knowingly they were wrong.
- The victim had relied on the information to be true.
Incorrect information about material facts should have occurred.
Contact Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Misappropriation of public funds has devastating consequences, including the inability to receive employment in public office again. If charged with this offense, you need an attorney who will investigate your case. Hiring a skilled lawyer could help build a strong defense and challenge your prosecutor's evidence, thus, obtaining the best possible results.
The Los Angeles criminal defense Law Firm is known for its conscientious approach to any white-collar case. We will review your case, gather evidence, then build the strongest defense possible. Contact our firm today at 310-564-2605 and make a free consultation with our criminal defense lawyers.