Most often, it goes like this: My office receives a call from someone who has been contacted by the Police (usually, a Detective) who wants to talk to them about an embezzlement case. In almost all of the cases, the person used to work for the person or company that went to the Police. The person calling my office is scared, and doesn’t want to say anything that will make matters worse. It is not uncommon for the caller to have been told by the Police that if they do not give “their side” of the story, the Police will get a Warrant.
The caller wants to come in and is willing to pay whatever the cost in order to get some sound Legal advice.
And then I surprise them by telling them that the best advice is so simple, it would be a crime in itself to charge them for it: Just shut up.
In another article on this Blog, I explained what to do (and, more importantly, what NOT to do) when a Police Detective calls. As explained in detail there, in almost every case I’ve ever seen, by the time the Police call, they already have enough evidence to go ahead and get a Warrant charging the person with a crime. In that sense, the Police are being completely (and maybe too) honest. Think about the message the Police either leave or pass on: If you don’t call, we’ll get a Warrant. In order to do that, they need to establish “Probable Cause” to the Judge, and they’re already indicating that they have it.
Therefore, about the only thing a person can say that would help out is something to the effect of “that wasn’t me – I was living in Arizona during that whole time period, never was here in Michigan, and I can prove it.” Anything other than that is just another nail in their coffin.
My advice in those cases is always to be polite and cooperative – return the call, and tell the Police you’ll come in to be processed (meaning “booked” and “Arraigned“), but don’t want to say anything or answer any questions. I tell the caller they can tell the Police they are “exercising their 5th amendment right against self-incrimination on the advice of Counsel.” You’ve at least seen that one on TV, or in the movies, right?
Now, in fact, of the numerous embezzlement cases I’ve handled, everything from a few dollars “nicked” out of a cash register, to ringing up merchandise below actual price, to pocketing hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars, no one has ever come to me because they were innocent. That’s not to say I might not see one of those cases, but to assist the reader in understanding that if you’re facing one of these situations right now and things don’t look (or feel) good, I’ve been down that road so many times I know it like the back of my hand.
As with most Crimes, the first and biggest fear anyone has is going to Jail. I like to be honest. On the front page of my website, I outwardly complain about other Lawyers who use what I call “scare tactics” to get people into the office. From my point of view, telling someone “wow, that’s a major Felony, you’re facing up to 5, 10 or even 15 years in Prison” leaves out one very important fact: Most people facing this crime can be kept out of Jail and Prison with little effort. In fact, I’ve never had one of my Clients get locked up for this crime, even if the money taken was more than a quarter-million dollars. My experience in these cases is considerable, but is limited to the Tri-County area around Detroit. I can’t comment on what happens in other parts of the state.
The plain fact is that, in most of these cases, establishing guilt is petty easy for the Prosecutor. In some cases, proving the amount taken is a different matter. Perhaps it’s because they feel so victimized, but on any number of occasions, I have seen the person who has been the target of the embezzlement jack up the amount they claim was taken pretty high.
This is where the Lawyer really earns his or her fee. Working out some kind of Plea Deal which keeps the person out of Jail or Prison is, or course, job one. After that, making sure they’re not on the hook for more than they actually got, and making sure they don’t get locked into paying Restitution they cannot possibly afford is the next priority.
In all embezzlement cases, the Prosecutor’s first concern is getting the Victim “made whole.” This means recouping either the money, or the amount of money that represents the value of whatever was taken. For the Defendant, this translates to paying Restitution, meaning paying the victim back.
And this, in turn, means being placed on Probation to do that, and staying out of Jail so that the money can be earned, even if it means just finding a job to get started.
In their desire to just stay out of Jail, most people will agree to anything. The problem with that such a proclamation is always driven by emotion, and not by reason. As good as saying “I’ll do anything, or pay anything to stay of Jail” and being told “okay” feels, being unable to meet those agreements later on is precisely what will land a person behind bars. This is why and how the Layer works out a Restitution plan that the person can actually pay. That’s not to say that the person gets to come to Court and show their expenses and pay out of what’s leftover. A person may need to scale back their lifestyle considerable in order to make their Restitution payment. Taking a person who makes 2 or 3 thousand dollars a month, however, and having them agree to pay $2500 per month in Restitution will not work, however. They’ll soon find out that they need to eat, need a place to stay, and have certain expenses that just can’t be avoided.
Keeping the Restitution amount “do-able” is a big part of the Lawyer’s role in Representing a person in an Embezzlement case. As in so many cases, the Lawyer’s principal role is dong “damage control” for the Client. Of course, it helps to hire a Lawyer who is familiar with these cases, and who is equally familiar with the Prosecutors and the Courts involved in them. For this reason, I strictly limit my practice in Criminal Cases to Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties. In other articles, I have expressed my reservation about firms at the unknown end of some “1-800” number, or those that claim to do everything, everywhere.
As with all Criminal cases, my advice in hiring a Layer is the same; call around. Talk to as many Layers as you can. Screen them. Be a good consumer, and find out who you’re most comfortable with. Price is always an issue, but I strongly caution against looking for the lowest price ( you can buy super-cheapie tires for your car, but most people spend the $$$ for a name brand), and likewise point out that just because someone is charging an exorbitant fee doesn’t mean they’re the best person for the job, either. Perhaps the best tools for finding the right Layer are on your head – your ears. Just remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
For anyone facing an Embezzlement Charge, being kept out of Jail is their most important concern, and that (at least in the Tri-County area) is usually “in the bag” Beyond that, proper “damage control” is the next priority, and that burden falls squarely upon their Lawyer’s shoulders. Finding the right Lawyer takes some time and effort, but is an indispensable part of making sure that this kind of case is handled correctly.