The California PC 503 outlines the crime of embezzlement. According to PC 503, you could face embezzlement charges if you unlawfully take property that has been entrusted to you, intending to deprive the rightful owner of the property use. Often, embezzlement is a misdemeanor offense. However, you may face felony charges if the property's value is more than $950. If you face embezzlement charges, you should contact an attorney immediately. Chula Vista Criminal attorney can help you fight embezzlement charges.
The Elements of The Offense
For the prosecutor to accuse you of unlawfully taking property that another person entrusts to you, they must prove several elements of the crime:
- It should be evident that the property owner entrusted their property to you
- The prosecutor should prove that the property owner entrusted their property to you because they trusted you.
- It should also be evident that you used the property or converted it to your benefit
- The prosecutor should also prove that you intended to deprive the property owner of the property’s use.
The prosecutor does not need to prove that the property owner requested you to return the property for you to face embezzlement charges. Therefore, asking the defendant to return the property is not a crime element.
Proving That A Relationship of Trust Existed Between The Defendant and The Victim
For an embezzlement conviction to hold the prosecutor should show that trust existed between the property owner and the embezzler. It is evident that a relationship of trust existed between the defendant and the victim if any of the following is true:
- The defendant is the property owner’s employee
- The property owner had given the defendant temporary possession of the property. For example, the victim may have given a valet (defendant) a vehicle to park.
- The defendant is responsible for managing the owner's property or money.
However, it is essential to note that the mere fact that the defendant is the property owner's employee is not enough to support an embezzlement charge.
Even if an employer-employee relationship existed, the prosecutor must prove that substantial trust or confidence existed between the parties involved. For example, if a restaurant employee is responsible for serving food, they are not necessary for a relationship of trust with the hotel owner. However, if an employee is responsible for depositing the restaurant's money in the owner's account, a relationship of trust exists between the employee and the restaurant owner.
Fraudulently Using Property
As outlined by PC 503, you can act in a fraudulent manner if you take undue advantage of the victim, causing a loss by breach of duty, confidence, or trust.
The Intent To Deprive
You can only face embezzlement charges if you intend to deprive the property owner of the property or its use. You could still face charges even if you intended to deprive the victim of the property temporarily. Your intent to deprive does not need to have been permanent. You should also note that your intention to return the property to its rightful owner does not serve as a defense for embezzlement charges.
Further Explanation Of Embezzlement
Embezzlement is the breach of fiduciary responsibilities placed upon a person. It is a white-collar crime because professionals mainly perpetuate it. In this case, the defendant (embezzler) attains the assets lawfully and has the right to possess them. However, the embezzler abuses this right and uses the assets for an unintended purpose. The most common form of embezzlement involves using funds for a different purpose than their intended use.
Most embezzlers create bills and receipts for business activities that did not occur and then use the funds for personal use. Embezzlers can face both criminal and civil charges for their actions. When you are entrusted with access to an organization’s funds or assets, you are expected to safeguard them. It is illegal to access company money and assets and use them for personal use. Illegal actions may involve diverting company funds to accounts that seem authorized to receive such funds but are not.
An embezzler may also collaborate with a person identified as a contractor or consultant who then issues invoices, receives payment but does not perform the duty they are charging for. The nature of embezzlement can be large or small. For instance, a seemingly harmless act like a storekeeper pocketing several dollars from a cash register qualifies as embezzlement.
On a large scale, embezzlement may involve executives of large companies who falsely expense thousands or millions of dollars and transfer the funds to their accounts. Embezzlement is punishable by fines and jail time. The exact punishment varies depending on the amount of money involved. The misappropriated funds or property need not be of substantial value for embezzlement to occur.
Embezzlement and Fraud
Many people often assume that embezzlement is the same as fraud. However, embezzlement differs from fraud in that the embezzler has a right to oversee or use the money or property but abuses this right. However, in some cases, embezzlement could be intertwined with some forms of fraud. For example, investors may trust a person with their funds to invest on their behalf, but they use the money for personal enrichment. In addition to cash, an embezzler may transfer other items that belong to the company. For example, they might claim company vehicles, real estate, smartphones, and laptops for personal use.
Where Embezzlement Is Most Common
Embezzlement can occur in both private and public companies. In the government sector, embezzlement mainly occurs when employees seize government funding and properties (local, state, or national) for themselves. For example, the government may disburse funding to fulfill or support particular projects. However, a staff member skims or takes some money for personal use. The punishment for embezzlement could vary from paying fines to paying restitution to the victims. In addition, the perpetrators of the crime could be criminally or civilly liable for their actions.
The Common Types of Embezzlement
In most cases, the crime of embezzlement occurs in employer or employee situations. This crime mainly occurs due to the employer's authority or trust in the employee. However, embezzlement does not strictly have to be through employment. The offense can occur in any relationship where the property owner trusts another person to watch their property. Given the broad definition of embezzlement, a wide range of crimes can qualify as embezzlement. There are unlimited ways in which a person can commit embezzlement, with the most common forms of embezzlement being:
Siphoning is a form of embezzlement mainly perpetrated by the people who work in restaurants or front-line stores. These employees have several ways of taking money from the cash register without raising suspicion or creating discrepancies between what is in the drawer and what the computer shows. First, they sell the item but do not enter it into the computer register.
Perpetrators of embezzlement also use the company payroll to acquire money illegally. Most large-scale companies have payroll managers responsible for calculating and completing payroll duties. A payroll manager or any other person in charge of managing the payroll can steal money by adding friends or family members who are not company employees to have them draw income from the company. The employee can then cash the various payroll checks, increasing their income level.
This embezzlement is mainly common in businesses that accept incoming payments from vendors or customers. A person working in this capacity may use bank deposits from various companies and alter the allocation of funds to cover the money they take for themselves. This accumulation of funds or property obtained while holding a trusted position may also qualify as embezzlement.
This form of embezzlement involves making a series of deposits and withdrawals from several banks. The checks soon grow in value, but they are based on depositing and withdrawing money from other banks with money that is not real. People who handle the bill-paying functions in large corporations commonly perpetrate this type of embezzlement. These people use the company checkbook to start and progress this crime before banks realize what is happening.
Prospective embezzlers through kickbacks involve people involved in purchasing activities in an organization. The vendor from whom a company purchases supplies may agree to give the employee some money, provided they keep buying a specific product. Inflated prices often characterize these situations because the vendor also tries to make some personal profits or gains.
Falsification of Overtime Records
Falsification of overtime records is also a common way of committing embezzlement. Hourly paid employees often perpetrate this crime. An employee can punch their card at the beginning of their shift but fail to punch it at the end of their regular shift. The employee comes back later, pretending to have left something behind, and secretly punches their card.
If an employee continues to do this over time, they could steal a considerable amount of money from the company. In addition, such an employee could face charges for embezzlement by falsifying overtime records. The types of embezzlement outlined above make the position of the embezzler much clearer. The embezzler must hold a position of trust and be responsible for the property they are trying to steal.
The Consequences For Embezzlement
Under California law, embezzlement can attract grand theft or petty theft charges. This will depend on the value of the property you steal or misappropriate. You will face grand theft charges under PC 487 if you take property worth more than $90 or if the property is a vehicle or a firearm. If the crime is charged as grand theft, it is a wobbler, meaning that it can attract felony or misdemeanor charges. If charged as a misdemeanor crime, the offense will be punishable by a jail time of up to one year in county jail. If charged as a felony, you could face a jail time of up to 3 years. The defendant will face petty theft charges under PC 488 if they are guilty of embezzling property worth less than $950. Petty theft is a misdemeanor crime punishable by a jail time of up to six months in county jail.
Whether An Embezzlement Conviction Has Negative Immigration Consequences
An embezzlement conviction could have negative immigration consequences. As outlined by the U.S immigration law, several crimes could lead to:
- Deportation from the United States
- If you are a non-citizen, you could be marked as inadmissible in the United States.
Deportation or being marked inadmissible into the United States usually results from an aggravated felony conviction. Therefore, if the prosecutor charges you with aggravated grand theft embezzlement, and the facts of your case show that the crime is an aggravated felony, you could face negative immigration consequences.
An Embezzlement Conviction And Your Gun Rights
An embezzlement conviction could also have adverse effects on your gun rights. California law outlines that a convicted felon is prohibited from possessing or acquiring a gun in California. Therefore, if the prosecutor charges a violation of PC 503 as a grand theft felony and you are convicted of the offense, you will lose your right to own or possess a gun.
Expungement of The Conviction
You are entitled to an expungement after an embezzlement conviction. However, for you to qualify for an expungement of your criminal conviction, you must:
- Complete probation successfully
- Complete your jail time(whichever is applicable)
However, you could still get the conviction expunged even if you violate your gun rights. However, this will vary depending on the judge’s discretion. The California PC 1203.4 explains the process of getting an expungement of your criminal conviction. After an expungement, you will be virtually free from all the disabilities and penalties that arise from a criminal conviction.
Fighting Embezzlement Charges
When the prosecutor charges you with embezzlement, you can use several legal defenses to fight the charge. Some of the common defenses that you can use to fight a conviction under PC 503 are:
You Did Not Use The Property Fraudulently
For the defendant to be guilty of embezzlement under PC 503, they must have used the property fraudulently. Therefore, the defendant can fight embezzlement charges by stating that they did not take undue advantage of the victim. The defendant can also point out that they did not cause loss to the victim by breaching confidence or a duty of care.
You Had A Good Faith Belief that You Had Right Over The Property
The defendant is not guilty of violating PC 503 if they had a good faith belief that they had the right over the said property or the money in question. The judge or the jury analyzes all the facts of a case to determine whether the defendant had this good faith belief. You can still use the good faith belief defense even if the belief is unreasonable or mistaken.
You Had No Intent To Deprive The Property Owner of The Property
You can only face embezzlement charges if you act with intent to deprive the property owner of the property. Therefore, you can show that you did not have this intent. For example, you can state that you took the property to pull off a joke on the owner but not to deprive them of the said property.
Several crimes are closely related to the crime of embezzlement. The related crimes are:
Burglary — PC 459
As outlined by the California PC 459, you could face burglary charges if you enter a residential structure, a commercial structure, or a locked vehicle with the intent of committing petty theft, grand theft, or a felony once inside the building. You could face burglary charges even if you did not gain a forceful entry into a structure. For the prosecutor to charge you with burglary, the following should be evident:
- You entered a structure or a room within the structure or a locked vehicle
- When you entered the structure, the room, or the locked car, you intended to commit a California theft or felony
- Any of the following is true: the structure you entered was not a commercial structure, the value of the property you took or intended to take exceeds $950, the structure you entered was a commercial structure, but you accessed it after working hours.
The penalties you face for a burglary charge will vary depending on whether you commit a first-degree or second-degree burglary. First-degree burglary is an automatic felony, meaning that it has harsher penalties than a second-degree burglary which is a wobbler. A wobbler offense can attract misdemeanor or felony charges. You can use the following defenses to fight a burglary charge:
- You had no intent to commit theft or a felony after entering a building
- You entered a structure to take something that you thought belonged to you, or you had a right or permission to take the item
- You are a victim of mistaken identity or misleading evidence
- The police engaged in misconduct during your arrest
Forgery — PC 470
The California PC 470 defines the crime of forgery. You could face forgery charges if you falsify a signature or alter certain documents fraudulently. Some of the common ways of committing forgery are:
- Signing another person’s name or a fictitious person
- Counterfeiting or forging a seal or the handwriting of another person
- Altering, corrupting, or falsifying any legal will, judgment, or codicil
- Falsely making, forging, altering, or counterfeiting certain documents, including bonds, checks, and money orders.
The prosecutor must prove that you committed any of the acts outlined above for him to accuse you of forgery. In addition, the prosecutor must also prove that when committing the said acts, you acted with an intent to defraud the other person.
The violation of PC 470 attracts wobbler charges. If the crime is a misdemeanor, you could face a jail time of up to one year in county jail. If the offense is a felony, you could face a jail time of up to three years. However, the judge may award you a felony or misdemeanor probation instead of jail time.
If the prosecutor charges you with the violation of PC 470, you can use several legal defenses to fight your charges:
- You can state that you had no intent to commit fraud
- You were falsely accused of a crime that you didn’t commit
- The police coerced you to make a confession
Misappropriation of Public Funds — PC 424
You could face charges under PC 424 if you misuse public funds and you were responsible for the said funds. This crime is almost similar to embezzlement. However, the primary difference is that violation of PC 424 involves a misuse of public funds, while embezzlement mainly involves misusing private funds.
According to California law, misappropriation of public funds is a felony crime. The potential penalties for the crime include:
- A formal or felony probation
- A jail time of two, three, or four years in prison
- A fine that does not exceed $10,000
After a conviction of misappropriation of public funds, you will not be allowed to hold a public office within California. Therefore, for California state employees, a conviction under PC 424 is more severe than a typical conviction. The sentence has the potential to ruin your career and your life. The conviction often attracts attention from media stations; it could be humiliating and draw stigmatization from society. Some of the common legal defenses that you can use to fight a conviction under PC 424:
- You did not act intentionally or with a criminal intent
- The amounts of money involved were incidental and minimal
Embezzlement By A Public Officer — PC 504
According to the California PC 504, it is illegal for a public officer to fraudulently use any public property in a manner that is not consistent with their official duty. Any public officer who violates PC 504 will be guilty of embezzlement. The crime can be prosecuted as either grand theft or petty theft. The offense will be grand theft if the money or the property involved is more than $950. If the money or the property involved is less than $950, the prosecutor will treat the crime like petty theft.
Find A Chula Vista Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
It is advisable to contact an experienced attorney immediately after learning that you are under investigation for an embezzlement crime. The prosecutor will do everything possible to prove that you are guilty of the offense. You should never attempt to face the prosecutor on your own; an attorney understands the common tricks that prosecutors often use. The Chula Vista Criminal Attorney can help you create a convincing defense to fight your charges. Contact us at 619-877-6894 and speak to one of our attorneys.