Embezzlement in Florida

May 18, 2015

A Brevard County School District employee was arrested recently for embezzling. Natalie Jean Jones, who was employed as a bookkeeper at a middle school, stole over $100,000 from Brevard Public Schools. She would make out legitimate checks to vendors, which would be recorded in a disbursement journal. She would then cancel the checks and write checks to herself in the same amount, forging the second signature. Jones was arrested after a six-month investigation and was charged with grand theft and scheming to defraud.

Theft

Florida does not have any specific embezzlement statute. Instead, the legislature has consolidated crimes like this under the theft statute. Under Florida law, theft means taking or using another’s property, whether temporarily or permanently, without the owner’s consent.

It is possible to commit theft even if the owner initially authorizes the offender to take his or her property. It is still theft if, even though the owner first gives permission to take the property, the offender then refuses to return the property when the owner wants it back, or if the offender uses the property in a way that is inconsistent with the owner’s instructions and falls outside the scope of the authorized uses.

Embezzlement occurs when a person has legitimate access to money or other property but misappropriates it. Embezzlers are people in positions of trust who misuse property for their personal gain. Some examples of embezzlement include a partner who steals money from the business and falsifies records to conceal the theft, a store clerk who takes money from the cash register, an investor who takes clients’ money and puts it in a personal account, a bookkeeper who doctors journals and records, or an hourly employee who falsifies timesheets.

Because embezzlement involves a violation of trust, there are consequences both legally and to an offender’s professional reputation. An embezzlement conviction will likely make others mistrustful of an offender as a potential employee or business partner. The sentence for a theft conviction depends upon how much money was stolen, and may include jail time, fines, probation, community service, and restitution.

Scheming to Defraud

In Florida, the offense of scheming to defraud is committed when a person:

  • Engages in a systematic, ongoing course of conduct,
  • Intending to defraud or obtain another person’s property,
  • By fraud, false promises, willful lies, etc.

There are two types of scheming to defraud: organized fraud and communications fraud. Organized fraud is committed when a person actually obtains another’s property as a result of a scheme to defraud. Communications fraud is committed when, in furtherance of a scheme to defraud, a person communicates with another via phone, mail, or electronic means.

The two types of scheming to defraud are punished differently. Organized fraud is a felony, and the severity of the penalty depends upon the value of the property stolen. Communications fraud is either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the amount stolen. Since the charge is based on the communication, an offender can be charged with multiple counts of communications fraud for the same scheme if there have been multiple communications made.

Embezzlement-related charges are very serious, but an experienced lawyer can work toward getting the charges reduced if possible. If you have been charged with a property offense, please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.