There are many jobs where an individual may be placed in a position of handling money or property for another person or a company. It could be a cashier at a restaurant, a bank teller, or even an accountant. If that person takes property or money for their own personal use without permission, they may be committing embezzlement. Embezzlement is a serious criminal offense and could result in felony criminal charges.
Embezzlement PC 503
Under California Penal Code 503, “embezzlement is the fraudulent appropriation of property by a person to whom it has been intrusted.” Embezzlement is treated differently than theft or other types of fraud because it involves a person in a position of trust who converts the property they have been entrusted with for their own use.
Embezzlement can be considered a “white collar crime,” which are generally nonviolent, financially motivated crimes. This may be committed by professionals, including financial advisors, agents, managers, or accountants. In many cases, individuals try to cover their tracks through bookkeeping or other methods to hide the loss of money or property. This can lead to embezzlement going on for years and amounting to millions of dollars.
Examples of Embezzlement
A former city executive was charged with embezzling more than $5 million from the City of Irvine. The finance services manager made multiple wire transfers over the course of a year to himself and others. The manager tried to cover up the embezzlement by fraudulently altering the city's financial ledgers. Only after a forensic auditor audited the city's records did they discover the extent of the fraud.
A Los Angeles business manager for a number of celebrities was charged for embezzling more than $6.5 million from his clients. The manager would falsify accounting records in taking unauthorized cash withdrawals. The manager made such withdrawals over the course of more than 4 years before he was discovered.
However, embezzlement does not always involve multi-million dollar cases. In some cases, employees have taken small amounts of money for use as a short-term load without permission, intending to pay the money back. However, prosecutors take all levels of embezzlement seriously, even if it only amounts to a few hundred dollars.
Other types of embezzlement could include a retail manager taking a dress from the store to wear out to an event without permission, an individual caring for an elderly family member who takes their property as ‘payment' for their services without authorization, or the use of investors money in a Ponzi scheme.
The California Penal Code has specific charges for a number of embezzlement offenses, from PC 503 through PC 515. PC 504 refers to embezzlement state, city, county, or other local government officers or employees. Other codes refer to embezzlement by a transportation company, financial employees, debt collectors, and embezzlement in real estate contracts.
Penalties for Embezzlement
The penalties for embezzlement may depend on the circumstances of the crime, including the type and value of the property involved. Embezzlement of property valued at more than $950 is grand theft embezzlement and can be charged as a felony.
Misdemeanor embezzlement can carry up to one year in prison. Felony embezzlement can lead to up to three years in jail. In addition to jail time and fines, the individual may be required to pay back all the money taken and return all property. A felony conviction may also disqualify an individual from certain jobs, and prevent them from being able to own a firearm.
Embezzlement of property belonging to the U.S., State of California, or other county or municipality is considered a felony. If convicted, the individual will no longer be able to hold a position of trust, honor, or profit in the state.
If embezzlement involves a victim who is elderly or a dependent person, it is considered an aggravating circumstance and could result in enhanced penalties, including more jail time and higher fines.
Embezzlement can go on for years before it is discovered, especially if the amounts of money taken are small and the individual alters documents in such a way to obscure the embezzlement. Once a company suspects possible embezzlement, they may conduct their own internal investigation before alerting the police. Many embezzlement investigations begin with an audit and questioning of other employees.
If you are suspected of possible embezzlement, it is important to contact an attorney before any charges are filed. Your company may be trying to build a case against you even if you were not involved in any embezzlement. The company, supervisor, or other employees may be trying to place blame elsewhere to avoid the suspicion that they were involved. Your experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to advise you on your rights and help you decide whether you should cooperate with the investigation.
There are a number of possible defenses to embezzlement charges, depending on the circumstances involved. In some cases, the prosecutor will not have any direct evidence of the crime, only relying on circumstantial evidence. In other cases, the individual may have had the right to use the property for their own use.
Intent to restore the property or return the money taken is not a defense to embezzlement and does not act to reduce the penalties if it has not been restored before an indictment or criminal charge. However, if the property was restored or returned before criminal charges or indictment, it may act to mitigate the penalties, at the court's discretion.
Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney
Lynn Gorelick has more than 30 years of criminal defense experience and understands the penalties involved with embezzlement, including felony charges. She understands how to approach the individual facts of each case for the greatest chance of success, keeping her clients out of jail and maintaining a clean record. Whether you are arrested in Oakland, Richmond or anywhere else in Contra Costa or Alameda Counties, contact Lynn Gorelick who understands you do not have to plead guilty just because you were arrested.