When an employee is suspected of stealing from their employer, the investigation is very often a matter of common knowledge. Small and moderate-sized businesses will often inquire about the workers who were involved with handling the missing funds to see if they made an accounting or bookkeeping error. Larger businesses will often begin an internal investigation or hire an outside forensic auditor to review documents and question employees.
If you believe you may be suspected of theft in the workplace, your immediate action should be to contact an experienced financial crimes criminal defense lawyer before speaking with anyone at the company about the incident.
What Proof Does the Prosecutor Need for an Employee Theft Conviction?
There are many kinds of theft under the umbrella term we call “larceny.” The definition of larceny at common law (when there is no statute) is “the taking and carrying away of the personal property of another with the intent to permanently deprive them of the value thereof.”
But special statutes have been enacted to address more specific circumstances. For example, if force or the threat of force against a person is used during the theft, the larceny is a robbery. If the person didn’t actually take the other person’s property or carry it away but only took possession of it later knowing it was stolen, then the crime is receiving stolen goods or possession of the stolen property.
Embezzlement is another kind of larceny or theft. Embezzlement is the type of larceny that occurs when someone is either entrusted with an item of value that was given to them for a limited purpose. The embezzler has no intent to steal when they come into possession of the item, but when they have it, they use it (convert it) for their own purposes. This would apply if a bank teller kept money given to them to deposit, a sales clerk took money from the cash register, or a bookkeeper fudged the books and diverted a company’s assets into their personal bank account.
In Florida, employees who take money or things of value from their employer are prosecuted under Florida Statute 812.014 — Theft. The crime defined in this statute expands the offense beyond the common law definition. The statute makes it a crime for someone to
- knowingly obtain or use, or endeavor to obtain or to use, the property of another with intent to, either temporarily or permanently:
(a) Deprive the other person of a right to the property or a benefit from the property.
(b) Appropriate the property to his or her own use or to the use of any person not entitled to the use of the property.
The law encompasses all situations in which someone knowingly takes or uses or receives another person’s property even if only intending to temporarily deprive them of its benefit. It also covers anyone who “appropriates” the property to their own use or to another who is similarly unauthorized.
Attempted Theft: Notice too, that any attempt to commit a theft is treated the same as a completed theft. You don’t get points for failing in an attempt to steal something.
Keep Reading > Florida Theft Crimes: It’s All About Intent
What Are the Penalties for Stealing from an Employer in Florida?
The Florida statute imposes the following punishments on people convicted of theft, with some higher penalties reserved for cases involving special, aggravating circumstances:
- value of the item taken less than $100 is a second-degree misdemeanor
- up 60 days in jail and a $500 fine
- between $100 and $300 is a first-degree misdemeanor
- up to 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine
- between $300 to $20,000 is a third-degree felony
- up to 5 years in prison and a
- between $20,000 and $100,000 is a second-degree felony
- up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine
- over $100,000 is a first-degree felony
- up to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine
Special circumstances in which the theft involves cargo in the stream of commerce, or in which a vehicle is used to get away and/or destroys property, where the property is emergency medical or law enforcement equipment, or where the theft occurs during a riot or in an area under the Governor’s decree of an emergency, enhanced penalties apply that call for prison and fines to be imposed at higher levels and for longer terms. The same holds true if the case involves farmed animals, controlled substances, and other specific circumstances.
Defending Theft from an Employer Charges (or Any Theft)
Contacting an experienced criminal defense lawyer in your area as soon as you become aware of an investigation of theft will give you the best opportunity to avoid police involvement and, perhaps, to prevent any prosecution at all.
How can a criminal defense lawyer help you avoid prosecution? The earlier you consult with an experienced financial crimes defense lawyer, the more opportunity there is for them to contact your employer and attempt to resolve the matter through cooperation and restitution.
Many employers want to recover their lost money and prevent the community at large and the people with whom they do business from learning about the theft. Companies often want to avoid the publicity surrounding a customer’s money being stolen or to have the company’s integrity questioned. Some cases can be settled by an immediate resignation of the employee with immediate repayment of the stolen funds or by agreeing to a rigid repayment schedule.
Of course, not every case can avoid police involvement. But contacting a criminal defense lawyer in those matters is imperative. Your attorney will prevent you from being questioned by authorities, they’ll assert your constitutional rights, and prepare to arrange for your immediate release from detention.
Cases involving employee theft from their employer can be extremely serious with jail and prison looming as a real possibility. In many cases, victims are so outraged by what they see as a betrayal that they pressure the prosecutor and the judge to sentence the defendant to jail.
But many defendants charged with theft from their employer are suffering from desperate situations as a result of substance use disorder (addiction), gambling addiction, severe mental health disorders like major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and any number of other personal problems. Getting a lawyer who knows how to present these mitigating circumstances to persuade the prosecutor and judge to be lenient is key to reducing or avoiding jail.
Tampa Theft Defense
If you are under investigation for stealing from your employer, call our criminal defense lawyers at Stechschulte Nell immediately; 813-280-1244.