Being responsible for some or all of an organization's funds does not come without risk. Even an innocent mistake such as a clerical error can land employees and others in hot water. On the other end of the spectrum, however, is the crime of embezzlement -- when someone who is entitled to handle such money (or other property) misappropriates it for their own benefit, sometimes over a long period of time, which amounts to theft without trespass. Because of the serious effects such misappropriation can have on a business or government entity, Washington State Senator Jim Honeyford introduced a bill that would have made theft by color or aid of deception its own crime, rather than just a method of committing theft. Using as an example a constituent whose business lost $30,000 as a result of an office manager embezzling money, the senator thought the punishment -- 60 days in jail -- was too lenient and sought tougher penalties.
Since the bill did not pass, embezzlement still carries the same penalties as other forms of theft, including jail time and fines. In Washington, a theft of $5,000 or more is a first degree felony carrying a penalty of up to 90 days' incarceration for a first offense. A theft of $750 or more but less than $5,000 is punishable by up to 60 days. Even if a defendant prevails against a theft charge for embezzlement or other white collar crime, the damage to their personal, career and business reputation can be devastating. Federal charges, which are applicable if the victim is the government, carry up to $250,000 in fines, in addition to prison time. Bank employees charged with embezzling may also be charged with a federal crime. Many white collar crimes discover that they are being investigated well before they are indicted.
A skilled attorney with a successful track record of handling white collar crime cases may be able to stop an indictment before it starts. This has the additional benefit of protecting your personal and professional reputation. If you have already been charged, your lawyer can begin investigating the facts of your case and start preparing a defense to challenge the allegations against you. It is extremely important that you not hand over any information or speak to authorities without consulting your lawyer first. You never want to help the state build its case. If you have been charged with a white collar crime, Peale Law Firm in Seattle, Washington can protect your rights and begin to develop a strategy for defense. To learn more about how we can help in a free consultation, call us at (206) 429-4777 or contact us online.