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Employee theft has been around as long as there have been people employed. But the full scope of the issue has gained heightened awareness and tougher enforcement in the wake of the Great Recession.

Theft defense lawyers in Fort Lauderdale at The Law Offices of Richard Ansara are committed to fighting for the rights of those accused of this very serious crime.

The National White Collar Crime Center reports that employee theft – also known as embezzlement – accounts for losses of up to $90 billion annually. Retail employers alone report $18 billion in employee thefts – which is about $2.3 billion more than the cost of customer thefts.

According to a recent Marquet Report on Embezzlement, employee theft:

  • Accounts for 30 to 50 percent of all business failures;
  • Occurs among an estimated 3 out of 4 employees;
  • Increased 5 percent from 2012 to 2013.

Although employee theft is generally thought of as a crime that takes place only in the upper echelons of business, it’s not just financial officers and bank executives. It’s just as commonly the retail store employee or the soccer mom.

Employee Theft in Florida

While most other crimes in Florida have been declining, embezzlement is on the rise, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). The agency reported that the total number of embezzlement arrests in the state in 2014 was 954 – a 0.4 percent change from 2013. Among juveniles, it shot up by 62 percent that year.

Although the state keeps some statistics of the crime, there is no separate statute for “embezzlement” in Florida. Rather, it falls under the general category of theft, as codified in F.S. 812.014. When applied to employees, the law indicates that theft by an employee occurs when:

  • Worker knowingly and unlawfully takes or attempts to take an employer’s property;
  • Employee does so with intent to permanently or temporarily deprive the employer of the right to his or her property or to appropriate that property to the worker’s own use.

Embezzlement can be classified as either “grand theft” or “petit theft,” depending on the amount of property that was stolen.

Penalty for Embezzlement in Florida

Punishments for embezzlement in Florida vary greatly based on the value of property that was allegedly stolen.

Generally speaking:

  • Where the amount of stolen property is more than $300 but less than $20,000, the charge is a third-degree felony, for which the punishment is up to five years in prison, 5 years of probation and a $5,000 fine.
  • When the amount of stolen property is greater than $20,000 but less than $100,000, the charge is a second-degree felony, for which the maximum penalty is 15 years behind bars, 15 years of probation and a $10,000 fine.
  • In cases where the amount equals or exceeds $100,000, employee theft is a first-degree felony, for which courts may impose up to 30 years in prison, 30 years of probation and a maximum fine of up to $10,000.

These are the penalty guidelines as laid forth under the general “theft” provisions of Florida law. It’s worth noting that in many embezzlement cases, Florida prosecutors tend to demand harsher penalties for a number of reasons, namely:

  • Employees are placed in positions of trust, which means they can cause serious economic harm to their employer.
  • Employers often insist on harsh penalties to send a strict “zero tolerance” message to other workers.
  • Embezzlement often involves much larger losses than typical theft, due to the fact that workers have such easy access to money.

For all these reasons, it’s not unheard of for prosecutors to pursue ample prison time, even for first-time offenders. Factors that may be considered in negotiating a reduction of charges or plea deal include:

  • The individual prosecutor;
  • Penalties desired by the alleged victim/ employer;
  • Prior criminal record of defendant;
  • Judge presiding over the case;
  • Myriad of aggravating and mitigating factors involved in the individual case.

Defenses in Embezzlement Cases

While all the expected, conventional defenses will apply, those that may be specific to embezzlement cases include:

  • Lack of intent to steal;
  • Using or obtaining the property for some lawful purpose;
  • Defendant acted out of necessity or duress (i.e., someone else was robbing them at gunpoint);
  • Employer gave consent to the taking of property;
  • Incorrect amount of loss/ value of items (affecting the severity of the charge).

If you have been arrested for employee theft, contact us today to learn more about how we can help.

If you have been charged with a theft crime in South Florida, contact the Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyers at The Law Offices of Richard Ansara by calling (954) 761-4011.

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