In Texas, embezzlement is prosecuted as a type of theft. Unlike larceny, which is the unlawful seizure of assets, embezzlement refers to the illegal appropriation of funds or resources which were entrusted to the defendant. As such, embezzlement involves a betrayal of trust, and the penalties are higher than those associated with some other types of theft. If you are facing embezzlement charges, you will need to work with a white-collar crimes lawyer to prepare your embezzlement defense case.
What Is Embezzlement?
Embezzlement is a financial crime that occurs when someone steals funds to which he or she had access, but which were owned by another individual or organization. Usually, embezzlement occurs between an employee and an employer. In addition to salaried and hourly employees, embezzlement can occur at the hands of vendors, contractors, or business partners. It can be as simple as taking cash out of a vending machine or as complex as investment fraud.
Embezzlement can occur at the expense of a private business, government organization, or non-profit. Several factors can increase the degree of an embezzlement crime by one level. Therefore, if any one of the following were true at the time of the crime, a Class B misdemeanour would become a Class A misdemeanour, or a Class A misdemeanor would become a felony:
- The defendant was a public servant
- The defendant was working on a government contract
- The defendant was a Medicare provider
- The embezzled property was owned by an elderly person
- The embezzled property was owned by a non-profit organization
What Are the Penalties for Embezzlement?
Embezzlement can incur civil or criminal charges. As with other types of theft, the Texas Penal Code states that penalties for embezzlement go up according to the value of the property that was stolen.
The value of the embezzled property was less than $1,500. Penalties include fines and up to one year in prison.
State Jail Felony
The value of the embezzled property was $1,500 to $20,000. Penalties include fines and up to two years in prison.
3rd Degree Felony
The value of the embezzled property was $20,000 to $100,000. Penalties include fines and between two and 10 years in prison.
2nd Degree Felony
The value of the embezzled property was $100,000 to $200,000. Penalties include fines and between two and 20 years in prison.
1st Degree Felony
The value of the embezzled property was over $200,000. Penalties include fines and up to 99 years in prison.
How Does a White Collar Crimes Attorney Build an Embezzlement Defense Case?
White collar crimes attorneys represent defendants who have been charged with nonviolent, financially motivated crimes, usually in a business context. If you have been charged with embezzlement, or if you are currently being investigated for embezzling funds, working with embezzlement defense lawyers in Houston you may pursue one of the following defenses:
The Prosecution Lacks Sufficient Evidence
If the prosecution does not have enough evidence to convict you, there is a good chance that your case will be dismissed. Insufficient evidence can be a strong argument in cases where a paper trail is needed to connect the stolen funds to the defendant, and where that paper trail contains significant gaps. 40% of embezzlement cases are dropped for lack of evidence.
You Were Coerced or Entrapped
If you were forced to embezzle funds, especially by law enforcement agents, your defense can likely argue that you were coerced or entrapped. Entrapment is a practice that violates law enforcement protocols and could prevent you from being convicted.
You Did Not Act With Intent
Embezzlement requires the offending party to have acted knowingly. Therefore, a defense attorney might focus on showing that you believed the funds were yours when you took them, or that you did not understand that your actions violated the intended use of the funds.
The Statute of Limitations Expired
In Texas, the owners of the embezzled property must abide by a statute of limitations pertaining to theft. For cases involving embezzlement, the statute of limitations is usually four years. Your employer will not be able to go forward with the charges if the statute of limitations has expired.
You Were Incapacitated
If your lawyer can show that you were not mentally capable of embezzling funds knowingly, the charges might be dropped. Sometimes, an embezzlement defense case can be built around the argument that you were insane, intoxicated, or otherwise incapacitated when the crime occurred.
Someone Else Embezzled the Property
When embezzlement occurs within large organizations, it is sometimes possible to show that another individual or group of individuals was responsible for the theft and tried to pin the blame on an innocent party. This argument is most likely to be applicable in cases involving complex embezzlement schemes.
Apart from using these strategies, an experienced attorney can often negotiate a repayment plan on your behalf which will form the basis of a settlement agreement, allowing you to avoid a criminal trial. While embezzlement is a serious offense that could result in heavy fines and jail time, weak spots can often be found in the prosecution's arguments. A qualified white-collar defense attorney can locate and leverage these weaknesses to build your case against the embezzlement accusations.