There are often news reports about a manager of a well-known person who bilked well-known clients out of large amounts of money. Movie and TV stars and performing artists who lost funds when they invested in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme were boldly identified in print and on air.
Other newsworthy items are when doctors are convicted for billing Medicare and other insurance entities for services not rendered. In Texas, cattle rustlers are still in business and defraud the true owners of the cows by writing bad checks for their purchases.
These are all types of embezzlement, but what exactly is embezzlement? What if I am wrongfully charged with felony embezzlement? What then?
Embezzlement, which can be charged as either a state or federal offense, is the fraudulent taking of property by someone lawfully entrusted with the property. This differs from ordinary theft or larceny in that the original “taking” was with the consent of the owner. The taking may be of property, cash or services.
The following elements must all be proven to convict a person of the crime of embezzlement.
Although an element of the crime is for the defendant to intend to permanently deprive the owner of the use of the property, it is no defense to the crime for the defendant to claim simply that he or she intended to return the property.
Embezzlement can be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the amount of the funds that were stolen. In Texas, if the value of the property or cash embezzled is under $1,500, the crime is a misdemeanor.
If the amount embezzled is more than $1,500, the crime is a felony.
In addition to criminal charges for misdemeanor or felony embezzlement, the person from whom you embezzled may sue you in civil court asking the court to order you to repay the funds or value of the property or services you embezzled.
Some common examples of embezzlement are:
If you are convicted, after a jury trial or guilty plea, of embezzlement, the consequences depend on the amount of the funds or value of the property that was taken. In Texas, the charges can range from a class C misdemeanor to a first-degree felony.
As laid out in Texas Penal Code, Section 31.03 the consequences of embezzlement are:
Penalties are increased if the defendant has any prior felony charges. Penalties are also increased in the defendant is a public servant, involved in Medicare fraud, and for certain types of cattle or exotic animals involved in the embezzlement scheme.
You need the services of an embezzlement lawyer who has years of experience in defending those charged with embezzlement. There are defenses available:
Consent. You believed the owner consented to your personal use of the cash or property.
Insufficient evidence. The prosecutor does not have sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of embezzlement. There must be financial records, witness statements, or your confession to prove your guilt.
Duress. You were under duress and believed you were in danger if you did not embezzle the property or cash.
Entrapment. You were coerced into taking the money or property by a member of law enforcement and would not have taken it otherwise.
You had no intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property. You intended to pay back the owner for the money or property taken. You had no intend to permanently deprive the owner of the property or cash taken. Some specific defenses include:
You may have other defenses depending on all the circumstances of your case. You need to contact an experienced embezzlement attorney as soon as you know you are under investigation for embezzlement. You can work together to decide on what steps to take next.
Michael J. Wynne is a Harvard Law-educated former prosecutor who now specializes in white-collar criminal defense, including charges of embezzlement. He understands your stress and will explain to you what to expect, answer your questions and provide you the aggressive defense you need.
Contact him online or by calling (713) 942-2255 to schedule a consultation.