Fredericksburg Embezzlement Attorney
What is Embezzlement?
Embezzlement is a form of theft, or larceny. What separates embezzlement from other forms of theft is the way it is committed. It involves taking money that was entrusted to someone. For example, we often hear stories of wealthy celebrities who lose money to unscrupulous accountants or managers. This is embezzlement. When someone misappropriates funds for themselves, they are embezzling. Embezzlement’s penalties can vary greatly depending on the value of what was stolen, any aggravating factors, and any previous criminal history. In Virginia, they are based on the same rules that apply to larceny and are codified in Virginia Ann. Code § 18.2-95 &-96.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Embezzlement?
When a crime has been committed, there is usually a length of time the state will allow before it drops the case. This is referred to as the crime’s “statute of limitations.” Generally, the statute of limitations is in direct proportion to the severity of the crime. The law will try to find justice for a grizzly murder for as long as it is able. For shoplifting, it’s going to give up much sooner.
In the state of Virginia, there is only a statute of limitations on embezzlement charges if it is charged as a misdemeanor offense.
What is the Penalty for Embezzlement in Virginia?
Felonies are considered the most severe crimes, and misdemeanors are the next step down. Even then, there are classes for both felonies and misdemeanors. A Class 1 misdemeanor is more egregious than a Class 2, and so forth. Whether or not embezzlement is a misdemeanor depends on the value of the stolen property. If the property is valued at less than $200, the embezzlement is a Class 1 misdemeanor. In most misdemeanor cases, the state has one year to charge someone. Class 1 misdemeanors are punishable by up to one year in jail and up to $2,500 in fines.
If the property is valued at more than $200, the embezzlement charge becomes a felony. Felonies in Virginia typically come in Class 1 – 6. There are other felonies that are specified as “Class U,” because they don’t fit within the specific parameters of the other felonies. Embezzlement is one of these Class U felonies. As a felony, embezzlement has no statute of limitations; it is punishable by up to 20 years in prison; and it may have fines of up to $2,500.
Defense Strategies for Embezzlement
Here are some ways you and your legal team can argue against embezzlement accusations in court.
(1) Challenge the Evidence
As with any accusation, you can challenge the veracity of the evidence itself. This can be a particularly effective defense against embezzlement. Financial exchanges are often complicated, even when they are completely innocent. It may be possible to demonstrate to the court that your actions were not embezzlement. Perhaps the authorities are trying to trap you on a technicality, and you could possibly prove that the accusation itself is misguided.
(2) Demonstrate a Lack of Intent
Intent is an important component of any criminal accusation. Prosecutors must show that someone committed the act in question, and they did so on purpose. Again, the world of high finance is complicated. It is entirely possible that yes, you did move money, but it was a simple clerical error. Perhaps, through the complexities of your contract, you believed the money was yours to take. You could have also moved the money to yourself temporarily. Maybe it was easier to put the money in a different location while you worked through red tape, and you had every intention of moving it back where it belonged.
You could also show the court that you had been temporarily incapacitated when you moved the funds. It cannot be stressed enough; the world of money and finance is highly complex. Anything could cause an error or disruption when moving money around. Perhaps you were on a medication that had muddied your thoughts, or you were battling an illness that left you confused. Maybe you were going through a major life stressor such as a divorce or family death that impeded your judgement. This is another way to demonstrate that you had no intention of taking someone’s money when you made transactions.
(3) Prove That You Acted Under Duress
When you are acting against your will, it can be said that you are “under duress.” The world is full of dangerous, immoral criminals, and sometimes, good people find themselves in the bad guy’s orbit. If you, intentionally or not, found yourself doing business with criminals, they may have targeted you, their business partner. It is possible that, under threat of harm to you or your family, you began funneling money into your account to pay off dangerous people.
In a less dramatic situation, you could have been working for an unscrupulous superior. Perhaps you were directly ordered to start moving money illegally. The law often acknowledges the power dynamics inherent in a work environment. If you were operating under orders from the top, you can use this duress as a defense against embezzlement.
(4) Argue That the Authorities Are Guilty of Entrapment
Entrapment is a complicated defense. People often confuse it with legitimate police investigations. Police are within their rights to lie; claim they are not police; and create fake scenarios to arrest people. If the authorities suspect you of embezzling, they can concoct a situation where they tempt you into doing it again. They could, in theory, pose as a new client with enormous wealth. If they believe you embezzled from this undercover agent, that is not entrapment. With entrapment, you must show that the police led you to commit a crime that you wouldn’t have otherwise. This scenario seems farfetched, but it does happen.
Entrapping someone into embezzlement can look like this. Jim is a good man with a clean record. One day, he is approached by someone who claims to be the grandchild of a wealthy socialite. This person tries to convince Jim that their grandparent is too old to notice any missing funds. If Jim becomes the grandparent’s client, the person argues, they could easily funnel a vast fortune away from the grandparent. Jim refuses, but this person doesn’t stop. They want Jim to take this money and split it with them 50/50. They keep showing up, explaining that it’s a fool-proof, victimless crime. The grandparent is too old to spend what they have, and no one will ever catch them. After months of convincing, Jim finally relents. This is when the other person reveals they are an undercover cop, and they arrest Jim. That is entrapment. For an entrapment defense to work, you must show that you were lured into a situation.
Andrew J. Cornick, Attorney at Law Embezzlement Legal Counsel
What makes embezzlement different from other types of theft is that embezzlement occurs when you are trusted with legal access to the assets that are stolen, but not given actual ownership. A common example of this occurs in a professional setting, when an employer trusts an employee with money and the employee uses that money for personal expenses.
When you are facing accusations of embezzlement, it is not advised that you face the legal system and your prosecutors alone. Retaining the Fredericksburg criminal defense attorney from Andrew J. Cornick, Attorney at Law can help you confidently face your charges. We aggressively approach each case and carefully consider all defense options—even if it means defending our clients in the courtroom.
Contact Andrew J. Cornick, Attorney at Law online today and schedule your free consultation.