Embezzlement

There’s a long list of what is considered white-collar crimes in California. Examples of such crimes include bribery, blackmail or extortion, and tax fraud. Many people are under the misconception that these types of offenses typically involve large amounts of money and powerful executives or authoritative financial advisers who are abusing their privileges. 

The unfortunate truth is white-collar crimes can be filed against anyone. Embezzlement is included in the category of white-collar crime. This kind of offense involves a combination of committing fraud and theft. It was often thought to involve large sums of money or highly valuable items. Contrary to popular belief, embezzlement charges can involve any amount of money or type property. 

Attempting to face these offenses alone could be extremely challenging. That’s why it’s highly recommended you find a criminal defense lawyer who understands everything that is outlined under California’s embezzlement laws. 

Free Consultation (619)-233-4433

Definition of Embezzlement

California defines embezzlement under Penal Code 503, which states it is a crime to unlawfully take another person’s money or property while it was entrusted to you. This offense can be charged regardless of how much money was involved or how valuable the property was.

More specifically, if an owner entrusts you with their money and/or property and you fraudulently withhold, change, or use said money/property to deprive them, then charges can be filed against you. Furthermore, even if one did not intend to permanently keep the money or items, the act of depriving the owner of them is enough to be charged with PC 503, embezzlement.

It’s important to note, this crime is known as a wobbler, which means it can be filed as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The severity of punishments depends on the sum of money and/or the value of the property, and the full details of the case.

Closely-Related Offenses

Here are some offenses that may be charged in association with embezzlement. It can be a struggle to fight these charges without the help of a criminal defense attorney. If you face any of the following, don’t hesitate to seek legal counsel as soon as you can.

California Penal Code 504, Embezzlement by a Public Official;

It’s a crime for a public official to fraudulently appropriate money or property that does not belong to them and use it without the official authority to do so.

California Penal Code 484, Petty Theft;

Stealing property or money valued at under nine-hundred-fifty dollars is illegal and known as petty theft.

California Penal Code 487, Grand Theft;

You commit the crime of grand theft when you take another person’s property and/or money and what was taken is valued at nine-hundred-fifty dollars or more.

These crimes are directly related to embezzlement. If the money or property in question was worth more or less than nine-hundred and fifty dollars, you could face charges for petty theft embezzlement or grand theft embezzlement.  

California Penal Code 424, Misappropriation of Public Funds;

It is a crime for an unauthorized individual who had control over government funds to steal, borrow, or lend out these funds.

Similar Offenses

California Penal Code 470, Forgery;

Knowingly and unlawfully changing, editing, or using a written document to commit fraud is a crime.

California Penal Code 476, Check Fraud;

It’s a crime to knowingly fake, create, possess, or pass along a fake or altered check to defraud another person or financial institution.

California Penal Code 530.5, Identity Theft;

It’s illegal to use another individual's personal identification information fraudulently and unlawfully.

What The Prosecution Must Do

To get a conviction for violating California’s embezzlement law, penal code 503, the prosecution must first prove the facts of the crime actually took place. Otherwise referred to as the:

Elements of the Crime

  • Another person entrusted their money or property to the defendant,
  • This person actually trusted the defendant,
  • The defendant fraudulently withheld, changed, or used the money or items in questions, and
  • The defendant did this with the intention of depriving the owner of said money or property.
    • Even if the defendant did not intend on keeping anything, simply depriving the owner of their items, no matter how temporary, can make you guilty of embezzlement.

Embezzlement charges, regardless of whether they take place on a small scale or within a larger corporation, are always taken seriously. There is also the potential to face harsher penalties in situations where there was more than one victim.

If you are a business owner, accountant, or financier and you are being accused of violating California’s embezzlement laws, now is the time to find an effective criminal defense attorney. Someone who can fight on your behalf to help gain the best possible outcome for your case.

Who Can Be Charged

To illustrate who can be charged with embezzlement take a look through the examples below.

Edith is an employee at a cafe. She is entrusted to deposit all the checks and cash earnings at the end of every workday.

Upset that her raise wasn’t approved, she decided to take a small amount every day and keep it for herself. This changed when her boss began to notice some discrepancies.

Edith could be charged with embezzlement because she had been entrusted with this task and unlawfully took a portion of the cafe’s earnings.  

Dylan works as a janitor at the same cafe as Edith. One day, he notices that she left the blue cash register bag on the counter. While Edith was in the restroom, Dylan sneaks over and takes a small amount.

Now, the cafe owner wants to charge both his employees with embezzlement. However, where Edith can be charged, Dylan cannot, at least not under PC 503. Because he is not in a relationship of trust with the owner (in the same manner that Edith is) he is not guilty of embezzlement.

However, he can be charged with petty theft or grand theft, depending on the sum of money he stole.

Lara entrusts Addy with her car while she works on a fishing boat for the summer. While Lara is away, Addy develops a gambling problem. Desperate, she fraudulently and unlawfully sells the car for cash, thinking she can double the money and get new vehicles for both of them.

This kind of embezzlement is considered a form of grand theft auto. Addy could also face charges for identity theft and forgery because she impersonated Lara and forged her signature in order to sell the vehicle.

Even though Addy didn’t intend to permanently deprive Lara of her car, the fact that she illegally sold what was entrusted to her is enough. Planning on replacing the car with two new ones is not a valid defense against embezzlement or grand theft auto.

Brad works for a car storage company and regularly loans out cars to his friends for nightly clubbing. He thought it wasn’t a big deal because they were returning the cars in pristine condition.

His boss got angry and wanted to press charges. Clients entrusted the storage facility with safely storing their vehicles. Instead, Brad was responsible for adding mileage to them, using up gas, oil, and other fluids. A change from the original maintenance of the car at the initial time of storage was not part of their policy or customer agreement.

Embezzlement charges could still be filed, even if the cars were only temporarily gone. Just because Brad was in a relationship of trust with his boss, does not mean he was authorized to lend out or use vehicles he did not own.

Legal Defense

There are some common legal defenses that a skilled criminal defense attorney would be aware of when fighting charges for embezzlement. To gain a deeper understanding of how this offense has been fought, there are several questions to consider. These examples showcase just how important the details can be.

Was their authorization to use the money and/or property that was entrusted?

For instance, Rudy was in charge of setting up the company picnic and entrusted with the company credit card. His boss left him instructions to “make it a memorable, family-friendly event and use it for whatever he needs.” As per instructions, Rudy worked around the clock to prepare. Everything went great and the employees loved it.

His boss, however, got angry when he discovered that Rudy had nearly maxed out the company credit card. Several smaller purchases were made for coffee and fast-food, so he accused Rudy of embezzlement.  

Rudy, however, was authorized to use the card for “whatever he needs.” In that respect, purchasing a coffee and lunch as he continued to work around the clock would not rise to the offense of embezzlement. In this case, he had a legitimate claim to use it.

Was there intent?

Committing embezzlement means that the defendant intended to deprive the owner of their property or money. If there is no intention to deprive the owner, then one cannot be guilty of embezzlement as defined under penal code 503.

Darla, for example, needed a place to store her motorcycle for the winter. Her friend, Janet, let her use the garage at her house. Janet left for the season, as she always does, and would not get back home until the Spring. This upset Darla, as she wanted to use her motorcycle as soon as the roads were clear. She alleged Janet was embezzling her property by preventing her from accessing it.

Janet lacked the intent to deprive Darla of the motorcycle and would not face such an offense. After all, the motorcycle was to be stored for the winter as per their original agreement. Under these circumstances, although Darla might be inconvenienced, Janet has done nothing wrong. 

False Accusations

Unfortunately, there are cases where anger, confusion, resentment, or just plain over-reaction can fuel false allegations for penal code 503, embezzlement.

Sarah and Hannah inherit all the content of their grandmother’s bedroom, as per her legal will before she died. The room had car keys to a classic Cadillac parked in her garage. The granddaughters load the vehicle up with things from the bedroom and drive home. 

Their cousin, Richard, claims he inherited everything in the garage, which included the car. Upset, he accuses Sarah and Hannah of embezzling property from their grandmother’s estate.

In this case, it could be argued that both parties have a claim to the Cadillac because the keys were in the bedroom and the car was in the garage.

However, it’s also understandable how the confusion could lead to such an escalation. In this case, Sarah and Hannah would not likely be charged with embezzlement.

In fact, in such cases as this, if an amicable solution cannot be found it’s recommended you seek the help of a mediator or an arbiter.  

Not sure if any of the examples provided up to this point can help? An experienced legal representative can guide you in the right direction. If you are facing allegations for embezzlement, consider a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer who can fight on your behalf.

Penalties and Sentencing Enhancements for PC 503 Embezzlement

If you are convicted of violating California’s Penal Code 503, embezzlement for petty theft, you most likely face misdemeanor penalties.

Misdemeanor;

Summary (informal/misdemeanor) probation, and/or

As much as one thousand dollars in fines, and/or

Up to six months in the county jail.

 

PC 503, embezzlement for grand theft could be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Misdemeanor;

Summary probation, and/or

As much as one thousand dollars in fines, and/or

Up to one year in the county jail.

Felony;

Formal (felony) probation,

Up to ten thousand dollars in fines, and/or

16 months, 2 or 3 years in the county jail.

 

Sentencing Enhancements

 

If convicted for felony grand theft embezzlement of firearms, you face the same punishments as outlined under the felony penalties. However, consecutive sentencing is considered depending on the total sum of money or value of the property involved.

 

Consecutive Sentencing for Money or Property Valued At:

 

Sixty-five thousand dollars - A 1-year sentence is added.

Two-hundred thousand dollars - A 2-year sentence is added.

One-million-three-hundred-thousand dollars - A 3-year sentence is added.

Three-million-two-hundred-thousand dollars - A 4-year sentence is added.

 

Punishments for Associated/Similar Offenses

California Penal Code 484, Petty Theft;

Misdemeanor;

Summary probation,

Fines of up to one thousand dollars, and/or

Up to six months in county jail.

 

California Penal Code 487, Grand Theft;

Misdemeanor;

Misdemeanor probation,

Up to one thousand dollars in fines, and/or

A potential one year sentence in county jail.

Felony;

Formal probation,

Fines of up to ten thousand dollars, and/or

16 months, 2 or 3 years in county jail. 

 

California Penal Code 504, Embezzlement by a Public Official;

These penalties are the same as PC 503, embezzlement charges. The defendant would have to face the same potential consequences as outlined under PC 484, petty theft and/or PC 487, grand theft.

 

California Penal Code 424, Misappropriation of Public Funds;

Felony;

Formal probation,

Up to ten thousand dollars in fines, and/or

2, 3, or 4 years in a California state prison.

 

California Penal Code 470, Forgery;

Misdemeanor;

Informal probation, and/or

Fines of up to one thousand dollars, and/or

Up to one year in the county jail.

Felony;

Either misdemeanor or formal probation, and/or

Up to ten thousand dollars in fines, and/or

16 months, 2 or 3 years in the county jail.

 

California Penal Code 476, Check Fraud;

Misdemeanor;

Fines of up to one thousand dollars,

Up to one year in the county jail.

Felony;

Summary or formal probation, and

Up to one year in the county jail, and/or

Fines of up to ten thousand dollars, and/or

16 months, 2 or 3 years in the county jail.

 

California Penal Code 530.5, Identity Theft;

Misdemeanor;

Fines of up to one thousand dollars, and/or

Up to one year the county jail.

Felony;

Up to ten thousand dollars in fines, and/or

16 months, 2 or 3 years in the county jail.

 

It’s important to mention, all these offenses have long-term consequences, which include having to pay restitution to the victim(s) involved in your case. There is also further potential for victims to seek punitive damages, depending on the severity of the offense.

Cases that involve aggravating factors will often result in enhanced penalties. Ignoring allegations for any of the aforementioned offenses could lead to harsher, more unexpected consequences. Not only could future employment be negatively affected, but it can also impact future residential plans and higher education pursuits.

Call Us For Help

Putting off or waiting to seek counsel can be detrimental to fighting this kind of accusation. If you or someone you know is facing charges for violating California’s penal code 503, embezzlement laws, contact San Diego criminal defense attorney Anna R. Yum and her team for a free consultation.

If you are located in San Diego, Los Angeles, or Orange County, the Law Offices of Anna R. Yum can help. You can call 619-233-4433 for more information on embezzlement, fraud, or any of the penal codes previously mentioned. 


 

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