Grand Theft and Scheme to Defraud are two types of crimes that involve the taking of someone else’s money or property. Both charges carry penalties that vary depending on the amount of money or the value of the goods taken. While they are different crimes, they share a common defense strategy.
The crime of Grand Theft involves the unlawful taking of property worth more than $300 although the punishments increase significantly at the $50,000 and over $100,000 thresholds.
To convict someone of Grand Theft, the State must prove that you took property from another person with the intent to:
- Deprive the person of a right to the property or benefit of the property
- Appropriate the property for personal use or for the use of another person not entitled to the use of the property
Scheme to Defraud
Scheme to Defraud falls into two categories: Organized Fraud and Communications Fraud. There is no minimum property value and punishments increase at the $20,000 and $50,000 threshold for Organized Fraud and at the $300 level for Communications Fraud.
A Scheme to Defraud occurs when a person:
- Engages in a systematic, ongoing course of conduct
- With the intent to defraud or obtain property from one or more persons
- By false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, promises, or willful misrepresentations of a future act
This type of crime most typically occurs when someone is in a position of trust and systematically siphons funds from a business or bank account. The most common relationships that give rise to this crime are employer/employee and senior citizen/caregiver.
Scheme to Defraud Defense
A significant element of this crime is the intent to defraud. What appears to be theft may in fact be the result of a misunderstanding between the parties. When a small business owner or senior citizen is unclear as to how specific funds may be used and the defendant had a reasonable belief that they used the money in compliance with their employer’s requirements, there is no intent.
A skilled criminal defense attorney will establish this misunderstanding and have the criminal charges dismissed. Although a civil suit may still result from the circumstances, no criminal penalties can be imposed.
Grand Theft and Scheme to Defraud Defense
The level of the charges and the severity of the punishments with both of these crimes are based on the amount of money allegedly stolen. Prosecutors, especially at the state level, have little experience with business operations and rely on the victim’s determination as to how much money was taken.
An experienced criminal defense attorney, especially one with business experience, will begin the defense process by challenging the calculation of the amount claimed to have been taken. The attorney will request all bank records, reconciliation statements, and other accounting documents from the prosecutor’s office and use a forensic accountant to identity inconsistencies or errors.
Within the state judicial system, there is often a significant difference between the amount of money claimed as stolen and the amount actually missing. In some instances, the missing funds are the sole result of poor bookkeeping. The establishment of the lower, accurate amount of missing funds often results in a reduction in the charges. A defendant who had been facing a potential prison term of 30 years may now be facing a maximum sentence of 5 years.
Hiring a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney is the key to achieving the best outcome under any circumstances.