Under California law, embezzlement is the act of breaching a duty, trust or confidence by fraudulently taking something of value that belongs to another person and that has been entrusted to you, such as money, bank accounts, credit card numbers or some other property. Accusations of embezzlement can have serious consequences that can affect the rest of your life, and a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney can help you understand your rights under California law and the best ways to defend yourself against these charges. If you or a loved one has been accused of embezzlement or another white-collar financial crime in Los Angeles, you should retain the services of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Our Los Angeles embezzlement defense attorneys have extensive experienced protecting the rights of clients facing embezzlement charges and offer skilled legal representation at any stage, whether you have been formally charged with the crime or are simply the subject of a criminal investigation.
Affordable Embezzlement Defense Attorney Los Angeles
California embezzlement is a nonviolent crime. As such, the prosecutor’s primary objective is to seek restitution for the victim, meaning he or she may not necessarily be gunning to throw you in jail, especially if the value of the property you allegedly embezzled was not exceptionally high. However, restitution typically means paying a significant amount of money and this can be just as devastating as going to jail for some defendants. Regardless of what punishment you may face in your embezzlement case, it is in your best interest to protect your rights and freedoms by hiring an experienced and aggressive Los Angeles criminal defense attorney to represent your case. Our highly-skilled legal team at Criminal Defense Attorney Los Angeles can help you reach a favorable conclusion to your case, possibly getting your embezzlement charges reduced to a lesser offense or convincing the prosecution to drop the criminal charges altogether.
Embezzlement is considered a white-collar crime or theft crime and is defined in Penal Code § 503 PC as the “fraudulent appropriation of property by a person to whom it has been entrusted.” This crime is also known as employee theft and the vast majority of Los Angeles embezzlement cases involve an employee who has permission from an employer to access something of value. Even though this is the form embezzlement most commonly takes, Penal Code § 503 PC can apply in any situation where there is an unlawful theft of entrusted property. Some common types of embezzlement include:
- Taking cash from a petty cash drawer
- Holding cash from a transaction instead of putting it into the register
- Returning stolen items for cash
- Taking cash from unattended wallets, purses or briefcases belonging to other employees
- Altering, falsifying or manipulating company accounts
- Misusing customer credit card numbers
An example of California embezzlement would be if a company employee is entrusted with the job of taking the company’s cash earnings at the end of each day and depositing them in the bank. If the employee takes a small portion of the cash each day to pay back his gambling debts, he could be charged with embezzlement, even if he has the intention of paying the company back at some point. Under California embezzlement law, the employee unlawfully kept money that was entrusted to him by the company. Another example would be if an employee at a rental car company decides to “borrow” a rental car without permission after his car breaks down, with the intention of returning it before his boss finds out. This could also be considered embezzlement, a violation of California Penal Code § 503 PC.
In a general sense, anyone who is entrusted with money or valuable property and deprives the rightful owner of the money or property by taking it for themselves can face Los Angeles embezzlement charges, including caregivers, contractors, tenants, valet drivers, accountants, bankers and jewelers. Depending on the amount of loss involved, a person accused of such crimes could be charged with petty theft under Penal Code § 484(a) PC, or grand theft, a violation of California Penal Code § 487 PC. Some other theft-related offenses sometimes associated with embezzlement include Penal Code § 459 PC burglary, Penal Code § 470 PC forgery, Penal Code § 496(a) PC receiving stolen property, and Penal Code § 368 PC elder financial abuse.
Conviction for Embezzlement Penal Code § 503
Embezzlement is distinct from other theft crimes, like burglary, in that the property in question was legally possessed by you but was then taken without permission. You can be charged with – and convicted of – embezzlement even if you didn’t intend to keep the money or property and were only borrowing it for a short period of time, so long as the property in question belonged to someone else and was entrusted to you. However, in order to convict on embezzlement charges in Los Angeles, the prosecution trying your case must prove the following elements of the crime:
- The defendant has some sort of relationship with the alleged victim, typically an employee-employer relationship;
- The defendant was entrusted with money, property, or any other item of value by the alleged victim; and
- The defendant unlawfully took the property with the specific intent to deprive the rightful owner of the property.
Penalties for an Embezzlement Conviction
Depending on the value of the property or the amount of money allegedly embezzled by the defendant, California embezzlement is treated like a petty theft or grand theft criminal offense. If the amount embezzled was $950 or less, the crime is considered misdemeanor petty theft embezzlement, punishable by up to six months in county jail and/or up to $1,000 in fines. If the amount embezzled was more than $950, the offense is considered a “wobbler,” which means it can be prosecuted as misdemeanor or felony grand theft at the discretion of the prosecution. As a misdemeanor, grand theft embezzlement is punishable by up to one year in county jail and/or up to $1,000 in fines. As a felony, it is punishable by up to 16 months, two or three years in state prison and/or up to $10,000 in fines.
If your grand theft embezzlement charge involves exceptionally large sums of money or property with an extraordinarily high value, you could face additional criminal penalties for your alleged crime. For example, if the amount embezzled exceeds $65,000, it is considered an aggravated offense and an additional year can be added to your maximum prison sentence. If the amount exceeds $3,200,000, another four years can be added to your maximum prison sentence.
Defenses to Embezzlement Charges
Being charged with embezzlement may seem like the end of the world, and it’s true that embezzlement charges are punished harshly in Los Angeles. However, it is your Constitutional right to defend yourself against embezzlement charges and assert any legal argument that may explain, justify or excuse your alleged criminal behavior. This is where an experienced criminal defense attorney comes in. A good defense lawyer is intimately familiar with the California criminal justice system and the arguments the prosecution is likely to use in your case and can challenge these arguments with a solid defense strategy. Some possible defenses to California embezzlement charges would include:
- If you have a reasonable claim or a good faith belief that you had the right to take the money or property in question. In this case, the act would not be considered embezzlement under California Penal Code § 503 PC.
- If you were falsely accused, you cannot be convicted on charges of embezzlement.
- If you did not intend to take the property from the owner, or did not intend to permanently deprive the owner of the property, you may not be criminally liable under Penal Code § 503 PC. For example, if that same rental car company employee took one of the rental cars without permission to get it serviced, he did not commit embezzlement because he did not intend to permanent deprive the company of the vehicle.
Hiring a Qualified Embezzlement Defense Attorney in Los Angeles
Most of us have only heard about embezzlement in movies or television shows where impossibly wealthy businessmen have their millions stolen from them by an employee who abuses his or her position of power or trust, but embezzlement is a crime that can affect anyone, and severely so. In Los Angeles, an embezzlement conviction can be disastrous, not only for you, but for your loved ones as well. Stealing of any kind carries a negative stigma and an embezzlement conviction can ruin your personal and professional relationships and destroy any future career opportunities you may have. California employers almost always run a background check on potential employees, and an embezzlement conviction will be a black mark on your criminal record. Not to mention the legal implications of a Los Angeles embezzlement conviction, which may include imprisonment, significant fines, restitution and probation. The outcome of your Los Angeles embezzlement charge depends a great deal on the proficiency of the lawyer defending your case. Contact Criminal Defense Attorney Los Angeles today for a free initial consultation.