As a Michigan criminal defense lawyer, I have developed a fairly robust embezzlement/ larceny by false pretenses practice. I handle embezzlement and false pretenses cases brought in the Metro-Detroit area, meaning anywhere in Macomb, Oakland or Wayne Counties. While I have handled cases of all sizes, many of them have been high dollar cases involving hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. I have written a number of articles on this subject that address the mechanics of an embezzlement charge and examine things like the first call from a corporate official and/or a police detective through the interrogation process. There is, of course, a lot to all of that; anyone who even thinks that he or she may face an embezzlement or false pretenses charge would be well advised to read those articles. Perhaps the most significant thing to be learned from them is to keep quiet and not talk. Ironically, however, many people discover what I’ve written after they’ve been questioned and have already made self-incriminating statements.
To be clear, just remaining silent is no sure-fire way to make a potential embezzlement or false pretenses charge go away. In most cases, the investigation that leads to someone calling the police is usually rather thorough, and it frequently resembles the old notion that if you follow one single thread, you find a whole big mess. The reality is that most embezzlement and/or false pretenses cases aren’t based upon false charges, although the amount of money that winds up being claimed by the “victim” is often grossly overstated. The sentiment there is that the aggrieved party (victim) might as well throw in the kitchen sink, because there isn’t likely to be a very deep pool of sympathy for the person who gets charged. I understand that side of things, but I also know, from extensive experience, about the other, human side of story from the person accused of the crime. Facing an embezzlement/false pretenses charge can bring a sense of despair.
For all the legal and technical analysis we can undertake regarding an embezzlement or false pretenses charge, the real bottom line is that if you’re facing one, you need to save your skin. I can write endlessly about rights and evidence and the burden of proof and hearings and legal arguments, and all of that kind of stuff, but at the end of the day, what matters most is what does, and even more so, what does NOT happen to you. This is particularly true when a person has, in fact, actually taken money or property, and then gets found out. I know that many people in these situations have labored under a desire, if not a belief, that they would find a way to pay the money back, or otherwise make things right.
This is an important, but often overlooked reality, because in the majority of cases I have handled, the person charged feels absolutely horrible. I have seldom dealt with anyone who didn’t feel a profound sense or remorse when things get discovered. In fact, one of the more common issues in an embezzlement or false pretenses case is that the person facing the charge or charges can become seriously emotionally overwhelmed. While this does not “fix” the case, or make it go away, an important part of my job is to use that genuine remorse in order to negotiate a better break from the prosecutor, and then later, to convince the Judge to take it easy on my client.
And that, as we have noted, is really the heart of the matter – making sure things go as easy as possible on my client. If that could be accomplished by simply letting everyone know how sorry he or she is, then the whole case could just be dropped in exchange for an apology. That never happens. Beyond the fact that once the money or property was taken, the crime had been committed, there is always a victim in the picture. The victim, meaning the party from whom money or property was taken, is usually quite mad. In some cases, the money or property represents a substantial loss, as in the case of an individual or a smaller business. Taking $50,000 from a small business can hurt a lot more than diverting millions from a huge corporation. By law, the victim has a say in how things turn out, so here is where my experience counts. Again, it is not the purpose of this article to become a treatise on strategy, but it is important that your lawyer has extensive experience in handling these kinds of cases because dealing with that aspect of things can be pivotal in producing a more lenient outcome. About the last thing you’d want in an embezzlement case is a victim standing in front of the Judge at your sentencing crying about the situation, or full of rage and screaming for justice. To be sure the victim will likely be there, as the law provides an opportunity for him or her (or it, in the case of a business) to address the court, but every effort should be made, through the proper channels, to diffuse as much of the anger and reduce as much of the drama as possible.
There is a familiar old saying that “money talks.” In a perfect world, we could show up in court, count out the amount of money owed, and pay it back. Things seldom work out that way, however, and when the amounts taken start climbing into the multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars, real questions arise about whether full repayment can ever be made. Everyone facing an embezzlement or false pretenses charge starts out with an intention to do his or her best to pay things back, even, as they’ll say, if it takes forever. Those who have experience in these cases, like the police, prosecutors, Judges, lawyers, and probation officers, know that intentions to make restitution must be taken in the same way that most people intended to make things right before everything came to light. In other words, it sounds good, but don’t hold your breath for all the money.
Even though there may be a lot of money at issue, very few people who are charged with embezzlement or for false pretenses live a luxury lifestyle. I’ve had cases involving gambling problems, shopping addictions, and just plain old need to money, but no one I’ve every represented has funded a vacation home in Europe. The point I’m making here is the only thing that changes when one of these cases come to light is that the money supply is cut off. The person doesn’t just wake up after the charges are brought and also find his or her expenses to have been cut in half. If there’s going to be repayment, it is usually predicated on a long-term plan of small, affordable amounts. In a case, for example, where the amount of money owed is something smaller, like $ 90,000, a person will have to pay $500 a month (and where is that going to come from so easily?) for 15 years, or $375 for 20 years.
Now, switch sides with the victim for a moment. Imagine being told that your money, if it ever is repaid, will take a decade and a half, or two decades to get. It is against this backdrop that I have to operate to smooth things over in a way that the Judge feels some sympathy for the person who did it. This is why I mentioned earlier that all the talk about evidence and case law and legal processes is almost meaningless in this context. To “properly” handle an embezzlement or false pretenses case, a lawyer has to have a natural ability to communicate, to be charismatic and persuasive, to “smooth things over,” and to understand how to manage the practicalities of the case so that when the client is standing in front of the Judge, things will go easy, or at least as easy (i.e., lenient) as humanly and legally possible for him or her.
In the end, it really does become all about saving your skin. If you are facing an embezzlement or false pretenses charge, I can help. My experience and skills have been refined over nearly a quarter century. While I have no inclination to compete with anyone who values his or her abilities in terms of being the cheapest or most affordable lawyer, I also know that money is always concern, so I always keep my fees within reason. I provide a general listing of my fee schedule on my site, and I simply cannot understand why any lawyer would not be similarly upfront about what he or she charges. As a general rule, I will not do business with anyone who will not list, at least generally give some ideal of how much things cost. Consequently, I don’t expect any potential client of mine to settle for anything less.