Embezzlement is the legal word used when someone unlawfully retains property that was entrusted to them by someone else. In the State of California, embezzlement is often closely related to grand larceny, but there is one key difference: embezzlement is characterized by the fiduciary relationship established between the victim and the person who stole the property. In larceny cases, the defendant doesn’t necessarily have any relationship with the victim; embezzlement, on the other hand, implies the victim entrusted a person with the duty to care for the stolen property, and that trust was, in turn, betrayed.

Fiduciary duties are often the responsibility of—but not limited to—people in the positions noted as follows:

  • Trustees
  • Agents
  • Corporate Officers
  • Public Officers

In many cases, poor or improper accounting is to blame.

What is Felony Embezzlement?

Embezzlement alone may not be considered a felony; the severity of the crime is generally dependent upon the value of the money or property that was stolen. In the state of California, embezzlement becomes a felony when the value of the stolen property is at least $950. It’s important to note that an embezzler need not benefit from his or her crime directly to be prosecuted, charged, and convicted.

Felony embezzlement is considered a white collar crime, meaning it’s a non-violent occurrence that usually takes place in order for a business or individual to make financial gains.

What are the Penalties for Felony Embezzlement in California?

In order to be prosecuted for embezzlement, a person must be shown to have specific intent to defraud the victim. This means the prosecutor must be able to clearly demonstrate how a defendant betrayed the trust of a person or group intentionally. Under California law, a person may face embezzlement charges even if he or she only intended to temporarily deprive the owner of the property in question.

Similar to grand larceny charges, a person facing an embezzlement case will likely be looking at felony sentencing. This may include:

  • 6 months to 3 years of imprisonment
  • Hefty fines
  • Increased penalties if aggravated factors occurred during the period of embezzlement

Examples of Felony Embezzlement in California

Example #1:

Sarah is the accounts-payable manager of a large firm. One of her company’s vendors offered her a 10 percent discount if they remit payment early. The firm is invoiced for the full amount, but Sarah makes sure those invoices are paid a week in advance every month, yielding her company a $1,000 credit every four weeks. She hasn’t reported or recorded this credit; instead, she places the overage in an employee account, which she then transfers to herself once the invoices are paid.

This act is felony embezzlement, as the company has entrusted her to account for all monies spent, and she’s channeling funds for her own use without sign-off or approval from leadership.

Example #2:

John is the treasurer of his HOA’s board. He’s responsible for the daily goings on of the community, as far as cash is concerned. Each month, he tallies the community members’ payments, and makes sure the funds are allocated accordingly. Over the past few months, someone has accidentally been double-paying, resulting in an overage on the books. Rather than applying a credit to that home owner’s account and notifying them of the confusion, John transferred the money to his own account.

This act also constitutes felony embezzlement, as the board and community members entrusted John to handle HOA payments in a responsible manner.

Embezzlement is a serious crime. Even if you’re completely innocent, the accusations alone can do significant damage to your reputation and well-being. If you’re facing embezzlement charges, the first thing you should do is hire a criminal defense attorney who understands the complexities of law as they relate to this type of criminal act.

Northern California criminal defense attorney Mark Sollitt has been handling legal cases for over 20 years, and he’s dedicated himself to helping his clients get the best possible resolutions to their cases. Other lawyers may tell you to plead guilty, but that’s not necessarily the right answer for your unique situation. Call Mark Sollitt at (800) 420-5667—day or night—to obtain the criminal defense representation that you deserve!