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Employee Theft & Embezzlement Explained

Sep 21, 2017 by Mike McKneely in Criminal Defense

Embezzlement is an offense that most would associate with complex or large-scale financial wrongdoings within the corporate world. But in reality, you could get charged with embezzlement for misappropriating any amount of money or property from an employer, an organization, or even an individual. Many people are surprised when they get charged with embezzlement, because the offense is subtly different from theft.

The difference between theft and embezzlement is that embezzlement requires that the stolen property be entrusted to the person who allegedly stole it. So if you buy your groceries with a company credit card, take a few dollars out of your store’s cash register, or allow a friend to use a car that someone gave you for repairs, you may be embezzleing.

If you are charged with—or even just suspected of—this offense, you should immediately retain our knowledgeable Fresno criminal defense attorney at Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer. Call us at (559) 443-7442, or contact us online for a free and confidential case consultation.

How Does California Law Define Embezzlement?

There are many situations that could result in embezzlement charges. This is because the definition of embezzlement is broad, covering a wide range of situations described in California Penal Code sections 503 through 513. Embezzlement is the theft of any kind of property or item of value involving the following elements:

  • Some person or organization entrusted their property to you- In just about every profession, you will at some point be in control of property that does not belong to you, from tools, computers, vehicles, cash, or even real estate. The employer, client, or business partner doesn’t need to give you the property or cash directly, they could act through an agent or intermediary.
  • They did so because they trusted you- The relationship of trust element may be satisfied if you were the owner’s employee, or if the owner gave you temporary possession of the property – such as by leaving their car with you for you to repair. This element may also be satisfied if you are a trustee, board member, or other responsible person for an organization such as a non-profit or trust that manages money or property.
  • You fraudulently took or used that property for your personal benefit- To act fraudulently, you must take undue advantage of the victim, or cause a loss to them by breaching a fiduciary or other duty that you owed to them. For example, if you are an executive of a company, you owe a fiduciary duty to the corporate shareholders to manage the company to the best of your ability. If you breach that duty and personally gain from it, you have committed fraud.
  • You had the intent of depriving the owner of their right to and use of the property- Your intent to deprive need not be permanent to satisfy this element. For example, if you take cash out of the register at work because you need to fill your car up, and you put the money back the next day, you have still deprived your employer of that cash. Thus, returning the property is not a valid defense to the offense of embezzlement.

An embezzlement charge may arise out of wide range of scenarios, many of which might be the result of a simple misunderstanding. As a rule of thumb, any time you take or use property to which you have access that is not yours, you may be committing embezzlement.

What Are the Penalties for Embezzlement?

California Penal Code section 514 provides that embezzlement is either grand theft or petty theft, depending on the value and kind of property you allegedly stole. Grand theft embezzlement occurs when the stolen property is:

  • An automobile
  • A firearm
  • Any property valued at more than $950

Grand theft embezzlement may be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances of the case and your criminal history. For example, if you have a clean record and gave the property back to its rightful owner, your case may get treated as a misdemeanor. Cases involving firearms, however, are always felony grand theft embezzlement.

If your grand theft embezzlement case is prosecuted as a misdemeanor, you will face a maximum sentence of one year in county jail and up to $1,000 in fines. If charged with felony grand theft embezzlement, your maximum penalty increases to three years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. Furthermore, the judge may add extra years to your sentence if your case involves large sums of money:

  • One extra year- Property valued at more than $65,000
  • Two extra years- Property worth more than $200,000
  • Three extra years- Property worth more than $1,300,000
  • Four extra years- Property valued at more than $3,200,000

For embezzlement cases involving less than $950 of stolen property, the offense is considered petty theft and involves a maximum jail sentence of six months and a possible fine of up to $1,000.

How Can a Fresno Criminal Defense Lawyer Help?

Every case is different, and the best defense strategy for you will depend on your specific circumstances. In general, your lawyer will look for evidence that shows that you lacked criminal intent, such as if you believed in good faith that you had the right to use the property you allegedly embezzled. If your lawyer can demonstrate there is a reasonable doubt as to your guilt, the judge will instruct the jury to acquit you.

If you’ve been charged with embezzlement, you should retain skilled legal representation immediately. The earlier your Fresno embezzlement attorney can begin working on your case, the higher your chances are of avoiding the devastating penalties of a conviction. Call Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer today at (559) 443-7442, or contact us online for your free consultation

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