Defending Yourself Against An Embezzlement Charge In Florida
“Embezzlement” is a loaded term that can cover a variety of illegal acts. These cases usually make the news when an employee steals money from an employer, or a business owner steals from their own company or associates.
Florida sees approximately 1,000 embezzlement arrests annually, with many of those occurring in the Tampa Bay area. While Florida does not have a specific embezzlement statute under which these charges fall under, the Florida Uniform Crime Reports program defines embezzlement as “the unlawful misappropriation by an offender to his/her own use or purpose of money, property, or some other thing of value entrusted to his/her care, custody, or control.” These acts can be charged by Florida prosecutors under a range of categories including theft, making false entries with intent to defraud, or misappropriations.
What the Prosecution Must Prove in an Embezzlement Case
Embezzlement is frequently charged in Federal courts, under Federal law. To prove the crime of embezzlement, the following specific elements must be established:
- A trust or fiduciary relationship between the defendant and the private organization or State or local government agency;
- That the property came under the defendant’s possession by virtue of their employment;
- The defendant’s acts constituted a fraudulent conversion or appropriation of it to his/her own use; and
- The defendant acted with the intent to deprive the owner of the use of this property. (Emphasis added.)
Embezzlement is a specific intent crime under Federal law, meaning the prosecution must show the defendant intended to deprive the rightful owner of the property. An accidental or unknowing conversion of funds – even if it causes harm – does not constitute embezzlement under these legal standards. However, a defendant is not absolved if they intended to take and later return the property in question. The intentional taking – even with an intent to restore – is an illegal act.
Florida state law does not have a statute specifically covering embezzlement, per se. Acts of embezzlement are typically charged in Florida state courts as property theft crimes under Florida Statute Sec. 812.014. A person could also be charged with making false entries in the books of a business entity under Florida Statute Sec. 817.15, which constitutes a 3rd degree felony.
What Are the Penalties for Embezzlement in Florida?
Criminal punishments for embezzlement in Florida can include a wide range of outcomes. If the embezzlement activity is charged as a theft crime (Petit Theft or Grand Theft) – the penalty typically depends on the amount or value taken. This also influences whether the case is charged as a misdemeanor or felony. Even a misdemeanor charge can include jail time, fines, costs, and restitution, however. Felony convictions can lead to up to 15 years in prison, in some instances.
Other collateral consequences can include driver’s license suspensions for up to a year. That is not to mention the substantial damage an embezzlement-related crime can inflict on one’s personal and professional lives. An embezzlement charge can lead not only to a loss of employment, but can make a person “unemployable” as well. The damage to one’s reputation at times can far exceed a court’s own punishment.
If you are being investigated or charged with an embezzlement-related crime under Federal or Florida law, you must consult with a qualified Florida criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. You will need to be aware of all legal rights and options under the circumstances, before a case moves forward.
Contact a Tampa Defense Law Firm to Discuss Your Legal Options in an Embezzlement Case
The Tampa white collar crime attorneys at Trombley & Hanes, P.A. help clients fight financial crimes including embezzlement. We will thoroughly review the facts involved in your case, the prosecution’s evidence, and your full range of legal options – including reductions or dismissals of charges. Contact our office today for help.