Facing Embezzlement Charges in Michigan and Dealing With the Emotional Implications

July 22, 2011

It wasn't that long ago that I wrote a 2-part article about the increasing number of Embezzlement cases that I am handling. As I noted in that article, the increase in my Practice mirrors a larger trend beyond the doors of my Office. I can only surmise that these tough economic times have driven people to engage in behavior that they would not otherwise even consider.

Having dealt with so many of these cases recently, I thought we'd examine them from an emotional, and real-world point of view, rather than just hold Embezzlement charges up for yet another legal analysis.

woman-silhouette1.jpgThe majority of Embezzlement cases I see involve women being charged. That's not to say that men are a distinct minority, but in almost every other kind of charge, the ratio of men charged, as opposed to women, is pretty high. Men commit more crimes than women. Embezzlement cases flip that on its head.

The amount of money taken (or lost, as in the case of those who take or otherwise handle property), by the time the case is brought, is usually quite high. I haven't seen more than one Embezzlement case involving less than $20,000 in a long time, and many involve amounts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the smaller case I just mentioned, a male Client had pilfered a few pairs of jeans and some tools from his employer, a large retail company. He didn't realize that he had been observed on camera. His case was worked out so that he avoided getting a Criminal Record.

Most of these cases begin with a call from a Police Detective, or and investigating Police Officer. This is usually when I get called. Often, the person is somewhat conflicted about just getting this off their chest and hoping that it can somehow go away. They need direction, even if they already know any Lawyer worth a nickel is going to tell them not to say anything.

At this point, the Police almost always already have the information they need to bring the charge, anyway. The "charging" document is called a "Warrant." If they didn't have enough information to get a Warrant, then it would, of course, make little sense to go in and give them the missing piece or pieces needed to bring a case. This is why I always advise anyone to contact a Lawyer BEFORE they go to the Police Station, or make any kind of statement.

In my Office, once hired, I'll call the Detective back and inform him or her that I have been retained by the Client, and the Client will not be coming in to answer any questions, but that we will voluntarily present the person for booking and processing and Arraignment in order to avoid having them picked up on the Warrant.

In these cases, almost everyone is let out, after the Arraignment, on a Personal Bond.

I'll be with the Client at that first Court date, and it is usually at that point that I can get a good feel for the dynamics of the case.

Understandably, the Client is nervous. They are scared to death of going to Jail, or Prison. They feel ashamed beyond words, and somewhat lost as to how they are ever going to pay things back. It is a horrible, unsettled feeling, and to make matters worse, as my Clients have often expressed to me, they know full well that they brought this upon themselves.

Most people in this situation realize that they might not be where they are if they hadn't gotten into a habit of taking money, or goods. That said, I have never met the Client who financed a big house, or a sports car, by Embezzling. Most people who do this set out to do it only 1 time, and usually with the intention to pay the money back, unnoticed. Then, without the means to pay, and still under the pressure of too many bills, they do it again. Of course, at least for a while, there is the self-made promise to repay.

Eventually, many people fall into the habit of making ends meet this way, and rather give up on paying the money back, hoping instead to just stop taking anymore.

Again, that doesn't happen.

Now, facing the charge, they wonder if whether, had they stopped earlier, these charges could have been avoided. Compounding their remorse is a sense that they got greedy, and helped do themselves in.

These are common feelings. Dealing with an Embezzlement charge is a lot like going through a Divorce or Death of a loved one. There is a sort of "grieving process" that most people feel. And it is not wrong for a person to feel sorry for themselves, and worry about their own well-being. I have heard it said that "feelings are facts," and a person must not somehow confuse concern for their own welfare as some kind of absence of appropriate guilt.

Many of my Client's have families with whom they live, so these cases become a family problem, as well. The thought of being separated from that family for any length of time is horrifying.

By contrast, some cases involve a person who feels that they were being taken advantage of by their employer, being overworked, or underpaid or not properly appreciated, or whatever, and that by Embezzling, they're just evening things up. We're not here to judge the morality of such feelings, but in the legal context, they have no place. No Judge will agree with that kind of reasoning. Still, it happens.

In fact, I just wound up a case involving a woman who had worked for a company that employed outside contractors. She was able to add a few bucks into each of their payments, and then would split the excess with them. This went on for quite some time, and she, perhaps understandably, agreed that they were getting "screwed" by the company, and that she was just helping them get a fairer shake. But when all was said and done, and, years later, the Embezzlement charges brought, there was no way for the Prosecutor to prove any of the contractors were criminally involved, and my poor Client was left on the hook to repay not only her ½ of what was taken, but the other ½ she paid out, as well. For what it's worth, in that case, there was no Jail.

I think that part of the Lawyer's job in properly handling an Embezzlement case involves understanding what the Client was thinking. Good outcomes are more likely when the Defense Lawyer can argue to the Prosecutor and the Judge that the person may have done wrong, but is NOT, deep inside, a bad person. Circumstances may not legally excuse what happened, but would you be more sympathetic to a bakery worker who stole bread to feed his family, or a jewelry store employee who made off with enough diamonds to buy a new Corvette?

I also think a Lawyer should know about the "grieving stages" a person facing such a charge will be going through. This is particularly important because early on, the sense of remorse a person has might lead them to just want to go in and admit to everything and "clear their conscience." That's not good. The Lawyer has to protect the Client, not only from the potential and various consequences that they face, but from themselves, as well.

In the end, when I walk out of Court with a Client after wrapping up and Embezzlement case, I am usually thanked for my help. I'm always thanked for my services in any case I handle, but in Embezzlement cases, because I've ridden the emotional roller coaster with the Clients, the thanks I get from them is often quite deep. A while ago, I received a custom-made thank-you card from a lady whose Embezzlement case I had finished shortly before. As my Assistant, Ann, pointed out, the fact that this woman had gone to the trouble to go out and get such a card made was the deepest compliment I could have been given, and it warmed my heart to know I helped a nice person through such a troubled time, and could help make things better for her.

Embezzlement cases are emotional cases. Despite the fact that they are proven by cold, hard numbers, underneath all of that is often a troubling mixture of emotions on the part of the person facing the charge. Dealing with those feelings is just part and parcel of successfully dealing with an Embezzlement case.