Under Penal Code section 503, embezzlement occurs when there is the fraudulent taking of personal property with which one has been entrusted. Embezzlement is a form of theft and is one of the most commonly charged white collar crimes. While embezzlement often occurs in the context of employment, the offense is also charged under other circumstances, such as a fiduciary stealing from someone who entrusted property or money to the fiduciary (for example, a financial broker skimming money from a client's account). All that is required to commit the offense of embezzlement is to fraudulently take someone's property that has been entrusted to you and convert it to your own use with the intent to deprive the owner use of the property. The term property includes money.

While we hear about the high profile, big money embezzlement crimes, a person may be charged with embezzlement even when the amount of money or value of an item is small. Say a store clerk is caught taking a $5 bill out of the register at the end of the day because he was out of cash and wanted to buy a loaf of bread on his way home from work. Under California law, the clerk has committed embezzlement because he intended to use the money, which was the property of the shop owner, for his own benefit and the owner had put her trust in the clerk to keep the money safe for her. And guess what? It doesn't matter if the clerk considered it a loan and intended to put a $5 bill back in the register the next day; the intent to repay embezzled money or property is not a defense.

Embezzlement of small value, such as the store clerk's taking of $5, is charged as a petty theft, while taking any property (or money) with a value over $950 is grand theft which carries stiffer punishment. Petty theft is a misdemeanor, but grand theft can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony (called a "wobbler offense" under California law).

Often a person who is charged with criminal embezzlement will also find themselves the defendant in a civil lawsuit as well. An employee who steals from an employer, a broker who appropriates his client's property for his own use, or a trustee who skims from the trust, are examples of scenarios that often result in both criminal charges and a civil lawsuit against the embezzler. Under California law, the criminal matter takes precedence. It is important to contact an attorney who is experienced is defending criminal embezzlement charges because the outcome of the criminal case may, and probably will, affect the alleged embezzler's civil liability.

Orange County embezzlement defense attorney William Weinberg has successfully defended numerous criminal embezzlement cases. While intent to repay is not a defense, there are defenses to an embezzlement charge and if there is a viable defense, Mr. Weinberg will vigorously pursue it. For example, if the alleged embezzler believed, in good faith, that she was authorized to take the property, and there is evidence to support that belief, the charge may be dismissed or a not guilty verdict may be obtained.

Consider a bookkeeper employed by a business that is owned by a husband and wife. Unbeknownst to the bookkeeper, the husband wants to hide some of the proceeds of the business from his wife. He tells the bookkeeper to divert funds to an account set up in the bookkeeper's name, telling the bookkeeper that he is making this request for some legitimate purpose. Later, the wife completes an audit of the books and learns of the fund diversion. The bookkeeper ends up with a charge of embezzlement. If the bookkeeper has not used any of the funds in the account set up in her name and there are other circumstances to support the contention that she moved the funds in good faith believing that is what her employer wanted, her embezzlement defense attorney will have a very strong defense.

Embezzlement charges can also be successfully defended when the alleged embezzler was not entrusted with the property. Even though an act of taking property from someone else can still be charged as theft, it is not embezzlement if there is no evidence that the property owner entrusted the property to the alleged embezzler. To use the bookkeeper example again, if the bookkeeper was caught stealing merchandise from the business, she committed theft but not embezzlement. Why? Because she was not entrusted to safeguard the merchandise.

Many embezzlement cases do not lend themselves to such a strong defense, but a skilled embezzlement defense attorney can often negotiate reduced charges or penalties. When embezzlement is charged as grand theft, it is almost always charged as a felony. This is one area where a defense attorney skilled at negotiating with the district attorney can get the charge reduced to a misdemeanor. This is no small thing as a felony embezzlement conviction carries a sentence of up to 3 years in jail while a misdemeanor conviction almost always results in a grant of informal probation. When the value taken has a high worth ($65,000 and higher), the charge and potentially the conviction will be a felony with sentence enhancements of up to an additional 4 years' incarceration. As an experienced embezzlement attorney, Attorney Weinberg will explore every potential argument that may abate the enhancement.

An embezzlement conviction not only affects your criminal record but may have a devastating impact on your career. If you work in a profession that requires state licensing, you may lose your license. Even if your career does not require a license, potential employers may be reluctant to hire someone with an embezzlement conviction on their record. You may be able to find some relief by way of a Penal Code 1204.3 expungement, but that relief is not available on all convictions and is only available after a successfully serving your sentence.

Orange County embezzlement attorney William Weinberg is committed to the zealous defense of his clients. He has served the Orange County community for over 30 years and has successfully defended many embezzlement charges. He will work to obtain the best outcome in your case. If you have been charged with embezzlement or any crime in California, Attorney Weinberg is available for a complimentary consultation to discuss your options. You may contact him at his Irvine office by calling (949) 474-8008 or by emailing him at bill@williamweinberg.com.

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