If you have been accused of embezzling federal or public funds, you need to contact a Houston embezzlement lawyer right away. The federal government takes theft, fraud, and embezzlement very seriously. If there is any evidence you took advantage of your position within a federal agency or department and stole federal money or property, you could face serious criminal charges.
At this point, you may have been charged with a federal misdemeanor or felony offense. Or you may currently be under investigation by a federal agency, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the Secret Service, or the Postal Inspection Service, if your alleged offense involved the mail. No matter where you are in the criminal process, it is not too late to call an attorney.
What is Embezzlement?
To embezzle is to unlawfully take control of money or property that you had lawful access to based on a position of trust. The central tenet of embezzlement is that you had access and possibly control over the money or property. However, you did not have the right to take it as your own.
The most common example of embezzlement is when employees commit the offense. Someone who has access to the funds of a business embezzles the money by diverting it into other accounts they can use personally. Another common situation for embezzlement is a professional trusted by an elderly person. That employee, whether they are a caretaker or trustee, may overcharge the senior or place the senior’s property in their own name without consent.
If you are accused of taking money or property, you can face charges for embezzlement under Texas law or federal law. If federal authorities are investigating you, call our Houston embezzlement lawyers right away.
Federal Embezzlement Law
There are several federal embezzlement laws found in Chapter 31 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code.
Under 18 U.S. Code (U.S.C.) §641, it is illegal to steal, embezzle, or knowingly convert any record, voucher, money, or anything of value of the U.S. (or any of its departments), or any property made under contract of the U.S. (or any of its departments). It is also illegal to sell, convey, or dispose of any item of value with authority, or to receive, conceal, or retain anything of value with the intent to convert it to your own knowing the item was stolen, embezzled, or converted.
If you are an officer, employee, or agent of the U.S. or any federal department or agency, and you had access and control over public money, which you unlawfully retained, you can be face charges of embezzlement under 18 U.S.C. §643.
There are also specific statutes addressing theft from financial institutions, the courts, health care programs, employee benefit plans, and employment and training funds.
If you’ve been accused of committing embezzlement, contact a Houston embezzlement lawyer from The Law Offices of Ned Barnett for help.
How Prosecutors Prove Embezzlement Charges
If you are accused of embezzlement that violates federal law, then the charges brought against you will be handled by an assistant U.S. attorney, and your case will go through the federal court system. You will need a skilled criminal defense lawyer to vigorously defend you during this process. Attorney Ned Barnett is admitted to the bar for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas and the Southern District of Texas, and the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
When preparing a strong defense for your case, attorney Barnett will discuss with you each element the assistant U.S. attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
Prosecutors must prove that you had access to the money, property, or another item of value. They must show the court you were in a position of trust, otherwise known as a fiduciary relationship. They then must prove you took advantage of your position, and intentionally used your access to gain control over the money, property, or other valuable item for your own gain. They must prove you had the intent to deprive the owner of their property.
You may wonder how hard it is to prove embezzlement. The answer is that it depends on the situation. Proving embezzlement often comes down to complicated accounting and your communication with others. Prosecutors may use the organization’s financial records, your financial records, your emails, and other communications to prove you committed this theft. If a federal agency investigated you, then you may have been placed under electronic surveillance. In this case, the prosecutor may have recorded phone conversations.
Is Embezzlement a Felony?
Embezzlement can be a misdemeanor or a felony under federal law. It depends on the circumstances of your case, and the amount of money or property you allegedly stole.
For misdemeanor-level federal fraud crimes, you face a maximum fine of up to $100,000, and up to one year of incarceration. For felony fraud, however, you face fines reaching $250,000 and a prison term of up to 10 years.
If you are concerned about the classification level your charge may receive, contact a Houston embezzlement lawyer right away.
Punishment for Embezzlement
If you are convicted of embezzlement, your specific sentence will depend on the federal sentencing guidelines. The punishments stated in the statute are maximum penalties – up to one year of incarceration for a misdemeanor, or up to 10 years in prison for a felony. Depending on the level of the crime, the guidelines, and your criminal history, you may be sentenced to a shorter term of imprisonment.
If you are charged with felony embezzlement as a first-time offender, then your lack of criminal history may help you receive a lesser sentence. When a judge sentences you for a crime, they determine the level of the offense and your criminal history category. The more significant your criminal history, the higher your criminal history category will be. This corresponds to a higher presumptive sentence under the guidelines.
Texas Embezzlement Law
Texas does not have a specific embezzlement law. Instead, state prosecutors charge you with a theft offense. Under some circumstances though, you may be charged with a fraud offense instead of theft. Depending on the amount you are accused of taking, you may face charges for a class A, B, or C misdemeanor, state jail felony, or a third, second, or first-degree felony. For the lowest misdemeanor offenses, you may avoid incarceration. For a felony, you will likely be sentenced to incarceration. For a first-degree felony, which you can face for embezzling more than $300,000, can be punished with up to life in prison.
Additionally, under Texas law, if you are accused of embezzlement – not just plain theft – then you can face the next highest level of offense. For example, if you stole $50,000, then you would usually be charged with a third-degree felony. However, if you are a public servant who stole the money through the virtue of your job, then you may be charged with a second-degree felony.
Call Our Houston Embezzlement Lawyers Today
If you have been charged with embezzlement under Texas or federal law, you need an experienced and aggressive criminal defense lawyer. You will need an attorney to carefully review your case and the evidence against you. Then, through an independent investigation, your attorney will determine the strongest defense. For embezzlement, attorney Ned Barnett may argue you lacked the specific intent needed to commit the offense. He may also seek to show the jury that the prosecutor lacks sufficient evidence to prove you committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.