Embezzlement and fraud charges in California vary widely depending upon any number of factors. I thought I would explore this area of CA criminal law in this post. In the past few years both the federal and state law enforcement agencies have focused their efforts in arresting persons for theft, embezzlement and fraud related offenses. These efforts have resulted from the increased media coverage of fraud cases including the Bernie Madoff giant ponzie scheme where hundreds of millions of dollars were stolen from unsuspecting victims. Often times, persons arrested for theft cases involving fraud and embezzlement have no history of criminal convictions and/or convictions for violent crimes and expect no prison time even if convicted of stealing a large sum of money. However, in California, most prosecuting agencies including those in Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange and San Bernardino Counties take fraud and embezzlement cases very seriously and often times seek prison time when large amounts of money are claimed to have been stolen. Accordingly, as discussed below, it is important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows California and Federal law to properly defend a person charged with fraud or embezzlement.
Grand Theft versus Petty Theft and Civil Compromises
In a standard theft case in California, there are two categories of theft: petty theft and grand theft. Petty theft is usually charged as a misdemeanor (unless a person has prior petty theft convictions) and is defined as stolen property worth less than $400.00. Penalties for petty theft can include up to 6 months in jail and a fine. Grand theft can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony and includes stolen property with a value exceeding $400.00. If you are convicted of grand theft, you can face jail or even prison time.
In California there are a number of crimes which fall into the category of theft including but not limited to fraud, embezzlement burglary, check forgery, check kiting, extortion, burglary and even shoplifting. If a person is arrested for grand theft and it is their first offense, often times an experienced criminal defense attorney can work out a successful disposition which may include dismissal. In a misdemeanor theft case, if an attorney can work out a “civil compromise” with the alleged victim where they are paid back for items or moneys that have been taken from them, the Court will dismiss the case in most instances. In a felony matter, if a person arrested and charged with taking over $400.00, a “civil compromise” can lead to dismissal as long as your criminal defense attorney enters into the compromise with the understanding and consent of the district attorney. Civil Compromises leading to dismissals in cases involving large sums of money become more complicated and one should consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer to determine if such a strategy is viable.
California Penal Code Penalty Enhancements for Taking Large Sums of Money and Property
In embezzlement, fraud and theft cases involving the taking of $150,000.00 or more in property or monies, California Penal Code section 12022.6(a)(2) provides for an additional state prison sentence of two years consecutive to the prison term for the actual taking of the monies or property which under California Penal Code section 487(a) is 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in state prison depending on the sentence pronounced by the Judge either after a plea bargain or trial.
Moreover, in cases where is person is arrested and charged with taking over $500,000.00 in money or property, California Penal Code section 186.11 provides for an additional prison term of 2, 3 or up to 5 years consecutive to a person’s sentence for the actual conviction under Penal Code section 487(a). If a person wants to avoid prison, it is often times essential for an experienced criminal defense attorney to negotiate the dismissal of such enhancements in exchange for pleading to the underlying charge which often times will allow for probation or no prison time.
Additional Criminal Charges For Tax Evasion Related to Fraud and Embezzlement Cases
In California, when cases involve the taking of large sums of money, often times a prosecutor will file additional charges against a defendant related to tax evasion as in most cases the property allegedly stolen is not claimed as income on a person’s tax return. Specifically, a person arrested for fraud or embezzlement will face charges under California Revenue and Taxation Code section 19705(a) which makes it a felony to willfully and unlawfully file a false tax return. When a fraud or embezzlement scheme last over multiple years, a defendant will face a separate charge under section 19705(a) for each year he or she files a false tax return. The penalty for a violation of California Revenue and Taxation Code section 19705(a) may include probation to up to 3 years in state prison for each violation. As such, it is important to consult with an attorney who is experienced handling embezzlement cases involving large sums of money where California criminal tax violations are implicated.
Bail On Large Theft/Fraud/Embezzlement Cases
Until recently, courts would set bail against defendants in embezzlement or fraud cases in an amount equal to the amount alleged to have been taken. As such, a person with no prior record who has been arrested and charge for stealing one million dollars would have a bail in the amount of one million dollars. The law has now changed to allow for lower bails in large theft cases and when arrested for embezzling large sums of money a person should immediately consult an experienced criminal defense attorney to determine if bail can be reduced or a person can be released on their own recognizance. This issue becomes especially important to persons who are waiting for trial in jail and have never experienced the trauma that can occur when being incarcerated for the first time for any period of time.
If a person can make bail, even it is in a range over $100,000.00, most prosecutors will fight the posting of such bail by filing an ex parte motion under Penal Code section 1275.1 to examine the source of the bail. As such, in order to fight such a motion, a person arrested must consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney who has handled such motions. In most cases, a person posting such a large sum of bail that is challenged by the district attorney must show that the funds are coming from a legitimate source and especially not from the monies or property that have alleged to have been taken from an alleged victim.
Importance of Retaining A Quality California Criminal Defense Lawyer for Any Theft Charge
As one can see, there are many serious issues that a person faces when charged with fraud or embezzlement involving large sums of money and/or property. However, as with most criminal cases, the hiring of an experienced and thoughtful criminal defense lawyer can lead to a successful result even in the most serious of criminal cases. For additional information and a free consultation to determine your rights, feel free to call 310-623-3771 or toll free 866-229-0101