Have you been ARRESTED or contacted by the Police, a Detective, FBI, or CPS?
(California Penal Code §§ 470 P.C., 503 P.C., et seq.)
The Los Angeles Defense Attorney Law Firm handles practically every type of fraud crime, most of which fall into the following three categories: embezzlement, forgery, and white-collar crimes in general (including worker’s compensation fraud).
If you are in a position of trust over an individual’s finances or property and you steal, misappropriate, or otherwise convert for your own use that person’s money or property, you will be charged with embezzlement. The key element for this crime is that you intended to permanently deprive the victim of said money or property.
If the amount of money or value of the property exceeds nine hundred and fifty dollars, then you’ll likely be charged with a felony. Anything less typically gets prosecuted as a misdemeanor. On the other hand, if you allegedly embezzle more than fifty-thousand dollars, you’ll receive a sentencing enhancement if convicted.
The key thing to remember about embezzlement is that unlike virtually all other theft-related crimes, the defendant in an embezzlement case initially had the right to lawful possession of the funds or property (or even services) at the time of the alleged theft. In other words, if you are a fiduciary by law or contract and allegedly absconded with some of your client’s money, you will almost certainly be charged with embezzlement.
– Between 2012 and 2015 (three seasons), Moorpark (Ventura County) resident William S. Zulager served on the board of directors of the local Little League baseball organization. In December 2012, other board members allegedly uncovered evidence of financial malfeasance on Zulager’s part and filed a report with the Moorpark Police Department. Specifically, the board’s treasurer allegedly discovered a highly unusual Southern California hotel bill that was charged to the league, as well as payments made to a convenience store – charges which were allegedly made by Zulager. After conducting an investigation, Ventura County authorities charged Zulager with misdemeanor embezzlement as the total sums equaled less than the requisite amount to trigger a felony charge (nine hundred and fifty dollars). In mid-July 2016, Zulager was found guilty following a jury trial.
– In early December 2017, a director of a center at the University of California at Riverside allegedly discovered that Mr. Lauren M. Flores, a manager in the same center, had written checks to himself totaling almost $3,000 from a UCR account used to pay research subjects. UCRPD commenced an investigation, which led to Flores being charged with two misdemeanors for embezzlement from an employer and insurance fraud. Flores, who was fired by UC Riverside, reportedly confessed to the crimes (and repaid the full amount). Specifically, in late November 2018, he pled no contest to both charges.
– In late December 2015, officials for the Little League organization in Adelanto (San Bernardino County) allegedly discovered financial discrepancies in the organization’s bank accounts, and immediately reported them to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which commenced an investigation and allegedly discovered that almost $20,000 was unaccounted for. As a result, at the beginning of March 2016, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office charged League treasurer Ms. Stacy L. Blandon with felony embezzlement. She eventually pled no contest to a misdemeanor embezzlement charge, and in mid-January 2017, received a sentence of one day’s incarceration (but with credit for time served following her arrest), three years’ formal probation, almost $250 in court fines, and an undisclosed amount of restitution.
– In 2010, Darryl McCauley, the half-brother and former manager of comedian and actor Dane Cook (Good Luck Chuck), was sentenced to six years in a California state prison after pleading guilty to embezzling millions of dollars from Cook over an approximately eight-year period. (His plea also included multiple felony counts of larceny and forgery.) For example, as part of his plea, at one point McCauley admitted that he simply wrote a check endorsed to himself for three million dollars from Cook’s business account. McCauley, a former prison guard, was also ordered to pay $12 million in restitution, as well as surrender numerous real estate and business assets. During a search, the police also found and seized over $800,000 in cash hidden in the wall of McCauley’s residence. McCauley’s wife, Erika, was also sentenced in the same case but only pled out to felony larceny for her role. She received three years in prison.
– In mid-September 2019, detectives from the Moorpark Police Department arrested Joe Rodriguez, a former employee in the human resources department of a local mortgage company. According to Moorpark PD, over a two-year period, Rodriguez had been inflating the employees’ payment invoices to vendors and pocketing the difference after remitting to the employees what they had actually earned. This scheme, which allegedly netted him several thousand dollars a month, began to unravel after he was laid off in March 2019. He was now facing multiple felony counts of embezzlement (grand theft) and money laundering.
– On July 1, 2013, a former LA County Sheriff’s Dept. sergeant named Bonnie T. Bryant III was arrested and charged with one felony count of embezzlement by a public or private officer, and one felony count of grand theft. According to the LASD, Bryant stole thousands of dollars in cash during sting operations staged in May and July 2012. At the time of his arrest, he was facing four years and six months in prison (including a special enhancement for carrying a gun during the alleged crimes).
Misdemeanor embezzlement is punished exactly the same as petty theft – no more than one year in jail (if, in fact, incarceration is ordered by the sentencing judge).
Felony embezzlement (again, value at issue is more than $950.00) can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or felony and therefore is known as a “wobbler offense” punishable the same as grand theft. That means up to either six or twelve months in jail (if sentenced as misdemeanor or misdemeanor grand theft, respectively) or, if prison is ordered, then the custody term will be sixteen, twenty-four, or thirty-six months (felony grand theft).
One way to attack this type of charge is by providing evidence (possibly instead of or in combination with your own testimony) that you were only temporarily borrowing the funds or using the property with the intent to return it in the near future to the owner.
Another element of this crime that might be attacked is the value of the property allegedly embezzled, which may require an expert witness to assist a jury in determining its value. Again, the amount will determine whether you are charged with a felony or misdemeanor.
Also, if you were never actually lawfully entrusted with the funds or property, then you cannot be charged with embezzlement, though you would probably be charged with a different offense, such as grand theft (felony) or petty theft (misdemeanor).
A so-called “claim of right” defense can also defeat an embezzlement charge if you can provide evidence that you subjectively (and not necessarily reasonably) believed that the funds or property belonged to or were owed to you. This, if true, defeats the key element that you intended to steal the asset from the owner. Obviously, if the money was in fact owed to you, for instance, then you could not be convicted of embezzlement.
Similarly, you might be able to show that you actually had the owner’s consent to borrow or take the subject funds or property. The consent, of course, could not have been given through any deceitful means on your part.
California Penal C. section 503 P.C.; CALCRIM Jury Instruction 1806.
Proving that you were the individual who executed the forged signature on the legal or financial document may not be as simple and straightforward as it sounds – unless you were contemporaneously filmed signing the document, or there were witnesses to you doing so, the DA’s Office may have to put an expert witness on the stand to testify that based on his or her analysis of your natural handwriting, you must have done the forgery.
If you actually have legitimate grounds to dispute the expert’s assertion, then you, too, will almost certainly have to present evidence from your own expert.
Alternatively, if you are not disputing that you were the one who signed the document at issue in another’s name, then the best defense – if true, of course – is that you actually had legal authority to do so – either implied or actual authority. This is the primary defense the accused forger of Stan Lee, as discussed above, will almost certainly use at his trial.
This lack of authority issue raises another potential defense – namely, that you were unaware that you were lacking it at the time you signed the document. For example, suppose you were the primary caregiver for a senior citizen suffering from dementia, and regularly wrote out small personal checks on behalf of him or her – but all having been done with his or her explicit authorization. So imagine if he or she later replaced you with a new financial custodian but forgot to inform you. In this circumstance, you could then be charged with forgery for any subsequent checks you endorsed.
Arguably, the most difficult element for the DA to prove is that at the time you allegedly signed the legal document, you had the specific intent to steal the victim’s money. Thus, you might be able to counter with credible evidence that you reasonably believed the money you took was owed to you, or that you only intended to borrow the funds temporarily (as opposed to permanently depriving the victim of it).
Sources: California Penal Code 470 P.C. & CALCRIM 1900.
Your sentence will depend on whether you pled guilty or no contest to, or were convicted at trial, of a misdemeanor or felony forgery. If it’s the former, you’ll serve a maximum of 365 days in jail – assuming, of course, that the judge orders incarceration.
For felonies, you can expect sentences of one-year-and-four months, two years, or three years in a state prison facility.
There are also sentencing enhancements that may apply, such as instances where the forgery involved, say, the loss/theft of millions of dollars, or if you have a criminal record for prior theft and fraud-related convictions.
If you aren’t ordered to prison for a felony, you’ll then likely receive five years’ probation. It’s three years, typically, for misdemeanors.
In many cases, you’ll have to satisfy a victim restitution order as part of your sentencing terms.
For those of you who have professional licenses (federal or state), or who were planning on obtaining one, you should know that forgery is considered to be a crime of moral turpitude that would likely result in your license being terminated or even revoked.
Immigration consequences, if there are any, can be equally serious and result in the commencement of deportation proceedings against you.
Finally, you may have to perform community service and attend some type of counseling.
In fighting theft/fraud/forgery charges on behalf of our clients, we often use a team approach. If the case is still in the investigation stage, we might work with one of our private investigators to hopefully accumulate evidence that might convince the investigating detective or even the DA’s Office to drop the charges.
Or, if there are licensing or immigration issues, for example, we will work closely with other attorneys to handle those areas as well.
Foreigner facing felony Workers Comp fraud – prison & deportation – all charges dismissed
People v. G.P.: Our client was a foreigner (permanent resident) living here with his two young kids when he was arrested for and charged with felony Worker’s Comp Insurance Fraud. Thus, he was facing both prison and immediate deportation upon completion of his sentence. Specifically, he was facing five felony counts for WC fraud and attempted perjury. This was a particularly challenging case, particularly because the DA’s Office presented at the preliminary hearing several witnesses who alleged that our client had not actually been present in the location in which he was working at the time of his accident (and where he was injured on the job). However, we put on our own defense witnesses who directly contradicted the testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses. We were also able to impeach the DA’s witnesses with inconsistent statements they had previously made to authorities about the incident. Finally, we met with the prosecutor (after the prelim) and showed him results of a lie-detector test – administered by a highly reputable polygrapher who works closely with law enforcement – that our client had taken which clearly indicated he had been telling the truth about the incident. On the day we announced to the judge that we were ready to proceed with trial, the DA’s Office dismissed the case and our client not only was able to remain with his family in the US, but eventually became an American citizen.