Recently, in my Criminal Practice, I have noticed a fairly significant increase in the number of Embezzlement cases for which I am hired. Most often, when I Represent someone facing an Embezzlement charge, I come to find that they are deeply remorseful for what's happened, but often felt like they fell into some kind of trap. This article will examine the "what's what" of an Embezzlement charge.
Most of these cases begin with a phone call. Usually, a person will be contacted either by a Police Detective, or a Loss Prevention Officer from the Company involved. When Loss Prevention calls, they usually schedule an appointment for the person (most often an employee) to come in and talk. When a Police Detective calls, he or she will typically ask the person to come in a give "their side" of the story. Sometimes, however, they will be a bit more forceful, and indicate that if the person does not come in, they will get a Warrant.
Often, but not always, I'll be contacted by someone before they call the Police Detective back. They're afraid, they have a good idea why they're being called, and the thought of going into an interview room in the Police Station doesn't sound too inviting. Yet, they wonder, is there a way that I might still be able to avoid a charge? What if I just keep quiet, and don't say anything? Maybe they need me to admit to something to build their case.
While I understand that, at least in theory, there is probably an exception out there, in my 20+ years of Practicing Law, I have never known a Detective to call someone when they didn't already have enough information to get a Warrant (remember, a Warrant is based upon "probable cause") charging the subject with the crime. The reason they call is to simply "wrap up" the loose ends of the case, which essentially means get a confession. The kind of Warrant we're talking about here is an Arrest Warrant, meaning that the Police are directed to apprehend a person and bring them to Court to face the charge or charges.
When I'm contacted by someone wanting to know what to do next, I will usually call the Detective myself. My job, of course, is to protect the Client. Still, in the 20+ years I've been doing this, I've never spoken with a Detective who didn't have enough information to get a Warrant. Thus, I inform them that my Client won't be coming in to say anything about the case, but I'm also very diplomatic in telling them that, once they get the Warrant, I'll present the Client for processing. This means being booked and printed, as well as being Arraigned by a Judge or Magistrate. The whole goal of this is to make sure the Client will be Arraigned and released upon either a Personal (meaning they need no money) Bond, or get one that they can post right away. This is most often done through my dealings with the Detective, and the establishing of a good relationship with him or her.
In other words, all that unpleasant and scary stuff is pre-arranged, and the person doesn't have to worry about being stuck in Jail and making friends with their new cellmate.
In those cases where Loss Prevention first contacts the Client, in practice at least, I usually am called in, unfortunately, after the person has gone in and met with them. I could spend all day on this aspect alone, but the sad reality is that almost everyone who meets with Loss Prevention winds up signing a statement admitting what they did. In fact, it was only recently that I had a rather intelligent young lady who left without signing the statement. Still, the larger point was that the statement basically recounted everything that had happened, and was pretty much spot-on in terms of the facts. This means they've got what they need to get the Police to issue a Warrant. In some cases, I've had Clients who, once they've signed the statement, have been held while the Police were called to come in and Arrest them.
As a preliminary consideration, it is usually the case that once an investigation is begun, charges will follow. I have seen painstaking, highly detailed forensic accounting re-create what otherwise had gone unnoticed over a period of years. In other words, the Police don't bring charges until they've got a pretty good case.
Interestingly enough, while I've handled loads of Embezzlement cases, I've never had anyone call me up in need of Representation because they maintained they were innocent. Instead, my Clients just want to stay out of Jail, and make this self-inflicted wound go away as much and as quickly as possible. Of course, everyone wants to know if the case can be beaten, somehow. I tell them that's the first thing we're going to look at.
Once in a while, I'm contacted by someone who's already been through all of the questioning, coming in, and being processed stuff, and now needs a Lawyer to handle the case.
I first meet with a Client to learn about what happened. Beyond getting their take on the simple facts of the case, I am looking to learn about them. Very often, a person will relate a story that goes something like this:
One day, the person was a bit short of money (house or car payment due, etc.) and decided to "borrow" a little from work. Usually, the Client will indicate that they had every intention of paying it back as secretly as they borrowed it.
Then, for whatever reason, they didn't pay it back. Most of the time, they simply did not have the money. As time went by, they realized their little subterfuge worked, and that no one discovered anything amiss. Then another financial need arose, and they did the borrowing thing again, and again promised themselves they'd make it right. Yet that day never came, and suddenly, they found themselves in a position where they had actually come to rely upon the money they took for living expenses. I have no idea what kind of rationalization goes on in a person's head as they sustain this lifestyle, but I do know that everyone I see is devastated by what's happened, and, as much as anything else, wants me, and everyone else involved to know that they're not a bad person, and this isn't like them. For most people, that's true.
Other cases involve taking merchandise that belongs to the employer, or scanning really low prices for friends or family in a retail establishment, or even giving refunds on bogus purchases. I've had cases where people have had check writing powers and have paid friends a family, either directly, or by the use of some name that would look legitimate at first glance.
However it happens, by the time I get the call, there either is, or is about to be a Criminal charge that needs to be handled.
In part 2 of this article, we'll continue our examination of Embezzlement cases, how they wind through Court system, and some of the more important considerations to address when handling such a charge.