Over the course of a decade, a few hundred dollars pocketed from her employer here and there probably didn't seem like much.
But federal prosecutors say over time, those amounts added up to $650,000, ultimately resulting in the long-time employee, the corporate comptroller, pleading guilty to mail fraud for embezzlement.
D.C. criminal defense lawyers do know that while this case was resolved in federal court, many embezzlement cases are handled in district courts. There, the crime of embezzlement actually falls under the broader umbrella of theft, which is spelled out in D.C. Criminal Code 22-3212. In these cases, it is not necessarily from whom you allegedly stole money but how much and in what way.
For example, first-degree theft is charged when the total value of heisted money or property is over $1,000. This charge carries a maximum fine of $5,000 and a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. Second-degree theft is for any amount under $1,000, and maximum jail time for this is 180 days, with fines of up to $1,000.
Additionally, if you knowingly misrepresent either yourself or hide the truth in order to cause another person to act to his or her detriment, that is charged as fraud.
While there is no specific element in the D.C. criminal code for additional punishment of an employee who steals from an employer, the courts may impose harsher penalties than they might otherwise if you were considered to be in a position of trust.
In this case, the 55-year-old employee, who had worked at the company since 1982, was considered to be in a position of trust. As the comptroller, she was responsible for the oversight of accounting, budget matters and accounts payable and receivable.
She reportedly committed the theft in a number of ways:
- By diverting the restaurant company's money to directly pay off her own personal credit card;
- Charging corporate credit cards for personal expenses the company had not authorized;
- Using restaurant vendors, paid by the restaurant, to obtain goods for her personal use.
In building a case against her, prosecutors were able to show that the defendant attempted to conceal her activities by asking vendors to alter invoices, creating phony e-mail messages and categorizing certain personal credit card expenses as being for corporate training. When the company began conducting an audit last year, she reportedly created a false corporate credit card statement so that the items that weren't authorized business expenses wouldn't be reflected.
One of the ways that a skilled defense attorney can help a person facing theft or embezzlement charges is by first having the charges consolidated. Often, prosecutors will stack multiple theft charges against a person, counting each individual act of theft as a separate incident. Experienced defense attorneys can usually have those consolidated as being each connected to a singular scheme, and therefore reduced to a singular charge.
Cases of white collar crime, such as this, require an attorney who understands both the legal process and the field of accounting and finance.