Embezzlement is one of the common white-collar crimes that carry hefty penalties in Arizona. Embezzlement charges arise in both formal and informal sectors as it involves taking property entrusted to you without the owner’s knowledge. Unfortunately, the punishments go beyond criminal penalties as your reputation is likely to be jeopardized, which might affect your career and personal life.
Luckily, a good criminal defense attorney can help defend you in court by challenging the charges leveled against you. We at the Phoenix Criminal Attorney might just be what you need to fight your charges. We are a premium law firm that handles all sorts of white-collar crimes, so please get in touch with us as soon as possible so that we can start evaluating your case.
What is Embezzlement?
Embezzlement occurs when someone is entrusted with property, such as money, and they knowingly take the property without the owner's authority. Embezzlement under Arizona Law is a type of white-collar crime and results in Class 2 felony charges, punishable by more than 12 years in state prison. The difference between embezzlement and other theft types is that the perpetrator is usually given control over the money, such as a treasurer or trustee in a minor’s trust fund.
Common Types of Embezzlement
In most cases, embezzling involves siphoning small amounts of money that may go unnoticed for a long time. Over time, these small amounts may grow into large sums of money. Under Arizona Law, each time you embezzle, it is termed as a separate criminal charge, which may get you consecutive prison sentences for each offense.
Embezzlement may be as significant as stealing property or millions of dollars from a wealthy person, or it could be the club treasurer using the club’s cash for personal use. In both cases, the person entrusted with property or money used it for personal use, even when they knew it did not belong to them. Other common examples include:
● Money siphoning from accounts
● Abuse of company credit cards
● Filing fake claims for reimbursement
● An employee transferring funds from the company account for personal use
● Overbilling clients and taking the difference for personal gain
● Money Laundering
● Bankruptcy fraud
Crimes Related to Embezzlement
Three crimes are linked to embezzlement and can be charged alongside or instead of embezzlement charges. These crimes are:
Burglary – ARS 13-1507
This is 2nd-degree burglary is a crime where someone:
- Enters or lingers in a residential building or structure unlawfully
- Does so intending to commit a felony inside the building or structure
This statute states that a person should have unlawfully entered the residential structure before committing the crime. In summary, embezzlement requires that the individual commits a theft.
Robbery – ARS 13-1902
Under this statute, robbery is a felony where a person or people:
- Use force and threaten others while taking their property and
- Do this to make the person give them their property
A person committing embezzlement can do so without using force, but their intent is converting the other person’s property to be theirs.
Theft – ARS 13-1802
Under this statute, theft is described as a crime where a person knowingly takes or uses another person’s property without their permission. Embezzlement is theft and punishable as any other felony under ARS 13-1802.
Criminal Penalties for Embezzlement
Depending on the facts, embezzlement can either be a misdemeanor or a felony. The value of the embezzled property determines the type of chargeable offense. Violating this statute can result in being charged with:
- Class 2 felony for amounts of $25,000 and more attracts a jail term of 12 years and six months and a fine of up to $1,000 plus surcharges.
- Class 3 felony is for amounts of $4000 but under $5,000. It attracts a jail term of 8 years and nine months and a fine of up to $1,000 plus surcharges.
- Class 4 felony for amounts of$3,000 and under $4,000 and attracts a jail term of 3 years and nine months and a fine of $1,000 plus surcharges
- Class 5 felony for amounts of $2000, but under $3,000 and attracts two and a half years of jail time, and a fine of $1,000 plus surcharges
- Class 6 felony is for amounts of $1,000 but under $2,000. It attracts a jail term of two years and a fine of up to $1,000 plus surcharges
- Class 1 misdemeanor for amounts under $1000 and a jail term of six months and a fine of up to $2,500 plus surcharges
Class 1 misdemeanors are the charges with the least severity and attract a jail term of up to six months in jail and are for smaller amounts of funds involved. The judge can also sentence you to three-year probation instead of jail time. As the value of the embezzled property rises, the severity of the charges goes up.
Class 2 felonies are the worst charges and attract a severe jail term of up to 12 years and six months in jail. If convicted of embezzlement, you are liable to fines and jail sentences. The fine amount and jail sentence will depend on your charges and the case circumstances. Criminal penalties are not the sole embezzlement charges consequences.
In addition to the money you are accused of embezzling, there may be other factors that influence the court’s decision on your penalties. Such factors may influence your sentence to become more severe than if it were regarded as just a fraud case. These include:
- The number of people defrauded
- Victims’ ages
- The mental capacity of the victims
- If you have a record of fraud
- Whether you have a previous conviction other than fraud (murder, robbery, DUI, etc.)
Other Consequences of Embezzlement Charges
If you are convicted on an embezzlement charge, there are other consequences you may face, such as losing voting and gun rights and loss of your professional license. Lawyers, doctors, accountants, people holding licenses to sell insurance, annuities, and securities must report any theft or crime conviction.
Some licenses require you to report a criminal charge, even if the charge is dismissed. Embezzlement is a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT), and Black’s Law Dictionary defines moral turpitude as, "Conduct that is contrary to justice, honesty or morality.
What Types of Behaviors Qualify as Criminal Embezzlement?
Most embezzlement cases are purposefully carried out. Anything you do that misappropriates property in your trust could lead to you being charged with embezzlement. However, you are innocent till proven guilty. The prosecutor's onus is to prove you are guilty and purposefully set out to defraud the alleged victim of their property.
What the Prosecutor Needs to Prove
To successfully convict you of embezzlement, the prosecution needs to prove to the jury beyond reasonable doubt your guilt. As mentioned before, you are always innocent till proven guilty, and the prosecution has to prove you committed the offense. In Phoenix, the prosecutor needs to prove four elements:
- You had lawful possession of the property in question
- You took the property for your personal use.
- Used it or took the said property with no intention of giving it back to the owner. If found guilty, the result would be severe penalties that may negatively affect your life.
- You acted intentionally
The prosecutor can only prove your guilt with evidence like:
- Incriminating financial records
- Statements from others that incriminate you
- You plead guilty
- There is a clear pattern of taking money or property for personal use, which acts as evidence proving intent.
Without these, it is almost impossible for the prosecutor to prove beyond doubt that you had ill intentions.
If you face an embezzlement charge or charges, you can raise a legal defense to counter the accusation. Some defenses include the defendant proving that:
You Had Consent from the Property Owner
You are guilty of this offense if you took someone’s property and converted it to yours without the owner’s express authority. Defense for embezzlement remains for the defendant to prove they had the permission of the owner.
You Genuinely Believed You Were Within Your Rights to The Property/Funds
If you are accused of embezzlement, and you acted with the belief that you were within your rights to the property and money, you are not guilty. This defense works if your belief in being within your rights was reasonable and also in good faith. A jury or judge will decide on the strength of the reasonable belief by scrutinizing the case facts.
You Can Claim Entrapment
If you are arrested in an undercover operation, charges can be dropped if the law enforcement officers lured you into committing the crime you are accused of. This is called entrapment and applies to undue fraud, harassment, threats, or flattery by the enforcement officers. Entrapment is a legal defense as long as you can prove you committed the said crime due to entrapment.
Intoxication is not accepted as a legal defense in most criminal cases. However, when it comes to white-collar crimes like fraud or bribery, the defendant could argue they were intoxicated and not in their proper faculty. Your attorney has to prove in court that you were highly intoxicated during the time of the offense and for the court to accept your defense and give you a lighter sentence.
The Statement Given Was Fraudulent
In an instance where you are charged with making fraudulent information, your defense attorney can argue that your statements were not fraudulent. There might have been a miscommunication, and the accuser mistook your information as fraudulent, while you had nothing to gain from the statements in the real sense.
You Had No Ill Intent
White-collar crimes unlawfully target making money at someone else’s expense. The prosecutor must prove beyond reasonable doubt that your actions had criminal intent. You can use the argument of lack of purpose. For instance, you might have made an error while filing your annual tax returns, and you had no criminal intent. Mistakes can happen with financial documents, which could be deemed unlawful while you did not intend to commit a criminal offense.
It was a Gift
Your attorney could argue the property was gifted to you, which works quite well as a defense. Sometimes embezzlement may be challenging to prove, and if the accuser cannot prove it was a gift, you might have no case to answer.
If you have been falsely accused of embezzlement, the charges against you can be dropped if the prosecutor cannot prove it in a court of law. Due to misunderstandings, you may be charged with misappropriating funds or property that you had access to. You will be innocent till proven guilty, and it is never upon you to prove your innocence but for the prosecutor to prove your guilt.
Lack of Evidence
If there is no paper trail to prove you embezzled funds or property, your attorney can successfully use this as a defense. Unless there is clear evidence or you confess, it is a challenge for the prosecutor to prove you are guilty, and this is a sure way of getting your charges dismissed.
Ignorance of the law is no defense. If you embezzled funds because you reasonably and genuinely thought you were entitled, you might have a defense. This falls under the lack of intent defense but an honest error that may land you in trouble. For this, you need an experienced and skilled criminal attorney to prove your lack of intent, as there is a fragile line between intent and genuine ignorance.
Phoenix Embezzlement Statute of Limitations
In Arizona, the statutes of limitation are set in place to protect defendants. The more time goes by between the embezzlement and prosecution, the more challenging it becomes to prove your innocence. If charged with embezzlement, the statute of limitations is longer than for a misdemeanor. In Phoenix, the statute of limitations for theft is seven years for felonies and one year for misdemeanors.
Which is Better, to Take a Plea or go to Trial?
Most convictions in Phoenix, Arizona, are due to plea bargaining. Most would prefer charge dismissal, but the more common solution to a criminal charge is to take a plea bargain. Your other option would be a deferred prosecution. Defendants are encouraged to take plea bargains as they are more efficient compared with going to trial.
With an experienced criminal defense attorney, you can quickly negotiate and get a less severe charge in a felony case. You may get reduced charges, and sometimes the charges may be dropped so that the prosecutor will recommend a lesser sentence.
A plea bargain falls into two types:
- Sentence bargaining: Used by prosecutors to get the defendant to plead guilty to the charge if the sentence is less severe. It’s a win-win situation as the prosecutor gets a guilty plea, and the defendant receives a reduced sentence.
- Charge bargaining: This benefits the defendants more because they receive a reduced charge for the same crime. As the defendant, you can then plead guilty to one charge instead of three or four of the original charges.
Can Embezzlement Charges be Dropped?
An embezzlement charge may result in you receiving a lesser sentence due to various factors. If the prosecutor has insufficient evidence to prove you committed the crime, the charges against you may be dropped. Your attorney can use inadequate evidence as a possible defense where there is no paper trail evidence.
Most embezzlement charges are dropped due to lack of evidence, but the jury must find you innocent beyond any reasonable doubt. The prosecutor may also drop the charges if the investigators cannot build a solid case against you.
Do You Have to Pay Back the Money You Embezzled?
If you are charged with embezzlement in Arizona, you do not necessarily have to pay back the embezzled property/ money, but in some cases, you may have to. With the right criminal defense attorney, a defense your lawyer can use is that the property or money was a gift.
Embezzlement in Arizona is a serious crime. If you are facing embezzlement charges in Phoenix, Arizona, you need to find a competent criminal defense attorney. This is the best way to avoid a lengthy jail term, severe penalties or get a lesser sentence. An embezzlement conviction can negatively impact your social life and career and deprive you of some of your rights. Your attorney will either negotiate with your accuser in an out-of-court settlement or with the prosecutors to get you a lenient plea bargain.
Find a Phoenix Criminal Attorney Near Me
At Phoenix Criminal Attorney, our attorneys have the skill, knowledge, and experience to create a strong defense for anyone facing embezzlement charges. If you have been wrongfully convicted for an embezzlement crime, our criminal attorneys will help you to appeal the decision. Schedule a consultation with one of our defense lawyers today by calling 602-551-8092 to improve your chances of getting the best possible outcome from the embezzlement case.