Like most white collar crimes, embezzlement can result in serious, lifelong consequences. Not only could it result in steep fines and imprisonment, it could also ruin your professional reputation and seriously inhibit your ability to find suitable employment. Depending on the value of the assets you embezzled, your criminal history, and other factors, the punishment for such a crime can vary greatly.
California defines embezzlement as the unlawful retention of assets that were under the management of the defendant. This crime differs from theft only if there is an established fiduciary relationship between the defendant and the other person. In other words, the defendant was the trustee and the victim was the beneficiary, or they shared some type of similar relationship regarding money or property.
Legally, a trustee is responsible for caring for the assets of the beneficiary in a fair and just manner, and if the trustee breaks this agreement he or she could face serious legal consequences. Embezzlement may occur in a variety of different ways, but usually involves the defendant unlawfully taking money that is entrusted to him or her. For example, a company may embezzle funds from customers, or someone may steal money from their own relative while helping manage their finances. However, it is the value of the assets stolen, rather than the way in which they were taken, that usually determines the penalty for the crime.
If the property embezzled was worth less than $950, the crime will qualify as petty theft and may be punishable as a misdemeanor. The penalties may include up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. However, in the event that the value of the stolen goods is less than $50 it may be charged only as an infraction, which may result in a fine of $250.
Any crime of embezzlement involving assets worth more than $950 will be considered grand theft. If the defendant is convicted, he or she may face up to 1 year in jail, if the crime qualifies as a misdemeanor, and up to 3 years in prison if the crime is treated as a felony. However, there are circumstances where crimes of embezzlement may be punished more severely.
Crimes involving the embezzlement of public money or include other “aggravating” factors will likely be punished more harshly under California law. An aggravated embezzlement crime may include the theft of more than $100,000 worth of goods or services or theft from an elderly or disabled person. If either of these factors exists, the defendant may be forced to serve up to 5 additional years in prison. Also, defendants with previous felony convictions are likely to suffer more serious consequences for embezzlement crimes.
If you or someone you know was charged with embezzlement, it is crucial that you seek aggressive legal representation. A good criminal defense lawyer can make all the difference in the security of your future.
Contact the Law Office of Pilchman & Kay, A Professional Law Corporation to schedule a free consultation with our criminal defense lawyers.