Theft from Public Office
Florida public officials are required to abide by a statutory and moral code of ethics and law. Those who fail to do so by committing theft from public office risk not only losing their jobs, but their freedom as well.
At The Law Offices of Richard Ansara, our Fort Lauderdale theft defense lawyers have successfully defended high-profile clients in criminal cases and recognize how meticulously these sensitive cases must be handled. In many of these situations, there is the added element of media coverage. This must be carefully managed, in addition to all other elements of the case.
Courts and prosecutors are supposed to function wholly independent of public opinion, but sometimes, attention on a high-profile matter is going to mean additional pressure on all sides.
We can help.What is Theft From Public Office?
There are a number of statutes and interpretations that govern how government employees and public servants should conduct themselves.
For example, the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees, as spelled out in F.S. 112.311 – F.S. 112.3261, spells out everything from voting conflicts to dual employment to stealing from public coffers. None of these provisions have specific criminal penalties outlined therein, but a felony conviction involving public trust (charged under separate statutes) will result in forfeiture of future retirement benefits.
One such felony involving breach of public trust is “embezzlement of public funds” – or aiding and abetting another in so doing.
Someone who is charged with stealing public money or property is likely to face one or more of the following charges:
- Theft, F.S. 812.014. Theft is knowingly obtaining or using or endeavoring to obtain or use the property of another with intent to temporarily or permanently deprive another of its benefit or appropriate it to his or her own use when not entitled to do so. Penalty depends on the value of the theft.
- Official Misconduct, F.S. 838.022. It is unlawful for public servants with corrupt intention to obtain a benefit for any person or to cause harm to another to falsify records or official documents, conceal or destroy official records, obstruct/ delay/ prevent the communication of information relating to the commission of a felony. Third-degree felony, up to 5 years in prison.
- Unlawful compensation or reward for official behavior, F.S. 838.016. This is when a public servant is caught corruptly requesting, soliciting, accepting or agreeing to accept any unauthorized pecuniary or other benefit. This crime is a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Charges can potentially be brought at the federal level as well. A number of recent cases have involved identity theft or theft of personal information (i.e., medical information, social security numbers, names, etc.) of private citizens or public employees. In those instances, defendants may face penalties for that underlying charge, as well as allegations of official misconduct.
For theft from office, there is:
- 18 U.S. Code 641, Embezzlement of Government Property. As defined in this statute, there are six elements to the crime, which are: A trust or fiduciary relationship between defendant and property owner; Property taken falls within statute (i.e., government property); Property came into possession or care of defendant by virtue of his or her employment; Property belongs to another (i.e., the government); Defendant’s dealing with property constituted fraudulent conversion or appropriation for his or her own use; Defendant acted with intent to deprive owner of this property, temporarily or permanently. Where the cash value of this action doesn’t exceed $1,000, the penalty is up to one year in prison. In cases where the aggregate value of the theft exceeds that amount, the penalty is up to 10 years in prison.
- 18 U.S. Code 1346, Honest Services Fraud. Enacted in 1988, this statute provides federal prosecutors another way to criminally prosecute public officials for failing to remember that their service is undertaken not to benefit themselves, but to provide “honest services” to their constituents. South Florida in particular has had ample prosecutions under the honest services fraud provision. It is a felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Other potential offenses include:
- Identity theft
- Wire Fraud
- Mail Fraud
- Conspiracy to commit fraud
In most cases, restitution is ordered.
If you are a public servant or public official accused of a crime in South Florida, contact our offices today to learn more about how office can help mitigate the circumstances of your case.