From community bake sales to major corporations, most of people are familiar with tales of theft and misappropriated funds. This basic concept is a type of fraud that is more formally known as embezzlement. Embezzlement is a federal offense that carries the potential for very severe sentencing, depending on the scale of the crime. Therefore, a smart first step after being charged is contacting an experienced embezzlement defense attorney in Fort Lauderdale or throughout Broward County.
Embezzlement as fraud
On its face, embezzlement might seem like a simple act of theft. However, the offense is mainly dependent on an act of fraud. People who handle money for businesses, government agencies, and organizations are granted access to the organization’s funds because they are in a position of trust. When embezzlement takes place, the individual diverts funds into an unauthorized account or uses them for an unapproved purchase. Embezzlement cases typically involve an authorized person leveraging his or her position to redirect funds and even create false expenses in the interest of creating a cover story that allows the individual to avoid detection while misappropriating funds. In some cases, an embezzler may hire a partner as a “contractor.” In reality, the partner simply receives payment from the organization without actually performing any of the required duties. Other crimes often arise out of embezzlement schemes. Individuals who orchestrate Ponzi schemes solicit investors and typically divert their investment funds into accounts for personal use.
Do not say anything that might incriminate you. Speak with an attorney first.
Proving it in federal court
When the government brings embezzlement charges against an individual in Fort Lauderdale, the prosecution must prove several elements. Each of the following must be established beyond a reasonable doubt:
- the defendant was entrusted with property by the property’s owner through the course of the defendant’s employment or office;
- the defendant misappropriated the property for his or her benefit;
- the defendant intended to deprive the owner of his or her property.
The prosecution is not required to prove the victim suffered a financial loss after the alleged misappropriation took place. However, some courts have allowed evidence that showed the defendant spent more than his or her income after the alleged embezzlement took place. The prosecution may obtain a conviction based on direct or circumstantial evidence. Prosecutors may establish the act of embezzlement and the defendant’s intent based on the following facts:
- the defendant was alone and had access to the property when the act took place;
- the defendant’s financial condition changed after the act took place;
- the defendant illegally had possession of the property after the act took place;
- the defendant’s personality changed after the alleged misappropriation took place.
Defenses you could mount
There are several defenses a Fort Lauderdale embezzlement defense lawyer might raise, depending on the facts of his or her client’s embezzlement case. The entrapment defense is sometimes argued if the property owner may have induced the defendant to commit a crime he or she would not have committed absent the owner’s influence. In some cases, duress may be present if the accused embezzler acted with one or more other parties who may have threatened the individual with job loss or damage to his or her reputation if he or she refused to assist in advancing the embezzlement scheme. A defendant may refute circumstantial evidence by producing bank statements to prove his or her financial situation did not change after the misappropriation occurred. The accused may also be able to establish that he or she was not the only person who had access to the property at the time of the misappropriation. An experienced Florida defense lawyer can determine the best way to respond to allegations that his or her client has committed embezzlement.
In Florida, individuals may be charged with embezzlement in state or federal court. Defendants who are convicted in state court may be sentenced as follows:
- For amounts of money or property that is valued at no more than $300, the defendant may be charged with a misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to six months up to one year in jail and/or fined $500 to $1000.
- If the embezzled property is valued between $300 and $20,0000, the individual may be charged with a third degree felony and sentenced to up to five years in prison and/or ordered to pay up to $5,000 in fines.
- Cases involving property value between $20,000 and $100,000 are charged as a second degree felony, punishable by up to $10,000 in fines and/or 15 years in prison.
- An individual may be charged with a first degree felony if he or she is convicted of embezzling property valued in excess of $100,000. Sentencing may include a fine up to $10,000 and/or 30 years imprisonment.
The federal embezzlement statute divides the offense into several categories. Within each category, misdemeanor offenses carry a fine of up to $100,000. Those who are convicted of felony embezzlement under federal law may be required to pay $250,000 in fines. In some cases, individuals who are convicted of federal embezzlement may be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison, ordered to pay up to $1 million in fines, and face additional employment and professional penalties. Some of the categories of embezzlement recognized under federal law are:
- public money, property, or records;
- tools and materials for counterfeiting purposes;
- accounting generally for public money;
- receiving unauthorized deposit of pubic money;
- court officers;
- custodians misusing public funds;
- dispositaries failing to safeguard deposits;
- disbursing officer;
- theft by a bank examiner;
- embezzlement by employees of a bank, lending, credit, or insurance institution;
- property mortgaged or credited to farm credit agencies;
Legal assistance in Broward County
Embezzlement charges can have very steep consequences. Therefore, residents of Fort Lauderdale and throughout Broward County who are under investigation should contact an experienced Florida embezzlement defense attorney. Those who enlist the help of an attorney prior to speaking with law enforcement tend to have better case outcomes than their counterparts who delay seeking legal counsel.