A white collar crime is a non-violent crime that often involves professionals; the aim of white collar crimes it to secure financial gains. The crime may involve either large sums of money or small amounts. Under California law, white collar crimes attract varying penalties depending on the nature of the crime. The common penalties for white collar crimes include probation, imprisonment, fines, and restitution to the victim. A white collar crime may be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor; felonious crimes have harsher penalties than misdemeanor crimes. The Orange County Criminal Lawyer can defend you on all white collar crimes in California.

White Collar Crimes Under California Law

All white collar crimes have one thing in common - deliberate deception for unlawful gain. A non-violent crime that involves fraud or dishonesty in financial matters qualifies as a white collar crime; white collar crimes are mainly financial rather than physical. White collar crimes are not new in the United States as high profile cases are all over the media like Bernard Madoff, who has faced charges for these types of crimes.  Madoff was guilty of 11 cases of fraud and other crimes, including perjury, money laundering, and theft. He defrauded millions of dollars from thousands of unsuspecting investors. Some of the common forms of white collar crimes in California include the following.

  • Extortion and Blackmail - California Penal Code 518 PC

Extortion, also known as blackmail is a crime under the California Penal Code 518 PC. Extortion may entail using force or threatening another person to make him/her give you money or other property. It may also involve using force or threatening a public officer to perform an official duty. If you are a public official, you may be guilty of extortion if you exercise your official authority to make another individual surrender money or property.

Anyone can be a victim of extortion. In most cases, extortionists target prominent people and threaten to ruin their reputation. For example, a prominent married person may face threats from an illegal sexual partner. A sexual partner may threaten to expose an extramarital affair unless he/she receives a certain amount of money.

Extortion may also entail threats of physical harm. For instance, a burglar may use a weapon such as a knife or a rifle to threaten a homeowner to surrender money or other valuable items.

Other than extortion by threat or force, extortion by a threatening letter (California Penal Code 523 PC) is also common. Extortion by a threatening letter involves delivering a threatening letter or another form of writing to another person threatening to inflict harm on them or their property. The letter may also outline a threat to falsely accuse another person or their relatives of a crime they did not commit or to disclose a secret about a person or their close relatives.

Extortion by a threatening letter must be in written form, and it must be clear that when writing, the extortionist had the aim of threatening the intended recipient to make him/her surrender money or other valuable items.  To be guilty of extortion by a threatening letter, the alleged victim does not need to hand over money or valuables, commit an official act, or even consent to the sender's demands. As long as the victim receives the letter, the sender is guilty of extortion by a threatening letter.

Extortion of signature (California Penal Code 522 PC) is also a crime under California law.  A defendant may threaten to injure a victim or their relatives, falsely accuse them of a crime or expose a secret about them to make the victim sign a certain document or a check to transfer money.

Extortion is a felony offense in California, and penalties may include fines of up to $10,000. Other penalties may include imprisonment for two years, three years, or four years in county jail. If you extort a dependent person (a person with physical or mental disability), you may face an aggravated charge.

  • Receiving Stolen Property – California Penal Code 496 a PC

The California Penal Code 496 a PC prohibits buying, receiving, concealing, selling, or withholding from the rightful owner any property or valuable item if you are aware that the item is stolen.  Stolen property may have been acquired in various ways, including embezzlement, grand theft, or petty theft, among other methods.

Receiving stolen property may be a misdemeanor or a felony offense depending on factors such as the value of the property included. If you receive property worth $950 or less, you can only face misdemeanor charges; property worth more than $950 may attract felony charges.

For a misdemeanor charge under Penal code 496 a PC, the applicable charges include imprisonment of up to one year in county jail. You may also pay fines of up to $1,000. For a felony offense of receiving stolen property, you may serve longer imprisonment of 16 months, two years, or three years in county jail. For a felony, you may pay fines of up to $10,000.

If you are facing charges for receiving stolen property, your lawyer can defend you by asserting that you did not know that the property was stolen. To be liable, you must have known that the property you were receiving, buying, selling, or concealing was stolen.

You may also argue that you were not aware that you possessed the stolen property. For example, a stolen property may be placed in your vehicle, your pocket, or your premises without your knowledge. The actual thief may place the stolen property in an area you control to shift the blame to you.

You may also adopt the innocent intent defense by claiming that you intended to return the property to the rightful owner. California law recognizes the concept of innocent intent.  The defense is only applicable if you intended to return the stolen items at the time you received then not at the time you suspect that you may be caught by law enforcement officers.

You may defend yourself against charges of receiving stolen property by proving that you were voluntarily intoxicated at the time you received the property. This can prove that you did not have the intention to receive stolen property. You may argue that the intoxication prevented you from realizing that the property was stolen and therefore fight the charges for receiving stolen property. 

  • Embezzlement - California Penal Code 503 PC

Under the California Penal Code 503 PC, you may be guilty of embezzlement if you unlawfully steal or take something entrusted to you but belongs to another person. While most thefts entail taking some else's property without their knowledge, embezzlement is different as the property owner will have entrusted a defendant with the property only for the defendant to steal it.

Since most embezzlement crimes take place in employment settings, embezzlement is also referred to as employee theft.  Embezzlement crimes mainly involve employees who may have been entrusted with money or other property only for them to steal the items entrusted to them. For example, an employee may have access to a company's bank accounts, credit cards, or physical cash and illegally takes or transfers money to himself/herself.  

Embezzlement is a serious crime in California, and if convicted, the results may be detrimental. To start with, there is much stigma surrounding embezzlement; thus, society will treat you with contempt.  An embezzlement conviction may ruin all your chances of ever getting rewarding employment in the future. After running background checks on you, most employers will avoid employing you.

Embezzlement has three elements, which a prosecutor must prove for you to face embezzlement charges. To start with, the prosecutor has to prove that a relationship exists between you and the victim. The most common relationship is the employee-employer relationship. The prosecutor must prove that in the scope of this relationship, the victim entrusted you with money or other property. The prosecutor must finally prove that you took the property without the owner's consent, and you had the intention to deprive the owner of the property. 

A public official may be guilty of embezzlement under the California Penal Code 504 PC, which is embezzlement by a public official. As a public official, the law prohibits you from taking, any property or valuables in a manner that is not in line with your employment. Elements of embezzlement under Penal Code 504 PC are similar to those under Penal Code 503 PC only that the former embezzlement is committed by a public official.

Your lawyer may adopt several strategies when defending you against embezzlement charges. You may assert that you did not have the intention to embezzle or steal. For example, in the course of supplying some company products, you may accidentally forget some supplies in your car and go home with them. You are not guilty of embezzlement unless you intended to possess and keep the company's supplies in your home.

You may also argue that you committed the offense in good faith and you were not aware that would count as embezzlement.

Also, if the prosecutor does not have enough evidence against you, you may defend yourself based on inadequate evidence that you indeed committed the embezzlement offense.

  • Criminal Identity Theft - California Penal Code 530.5 PC

 California laws relating to identity theft were enacted in 1998 and started as misdemeanor offenses.  From 1999, some identity theft cases started qualifying as felony charges. Currently, criminal identity theft is a wobbler under California law and may attract either a misdemeanor or felony charges depending on the circumstances surrounding the offense. 

The California Penal Code 530.5 (a) prohibits willful possession and use of personal identifying information that may be used to gain goods, services, obtain credit, or medical information of another person.  If a misdemeanor, this offense is punishable by up to one-year imprisonment. If the crime is a felony, it may be punishable by several years' imprisonment. 

Also, the California Penal Code 530.5 (b) prohibits willfully obtaining personal information of another person and using the information to commit a crime. In such a case, the law outlines that the victim's court file will clearly outline that the victim of identity theft did not commit the crime. 

  • Forgery – California Penal Code 470 PC

The crime of forgery is outlined under California Penal Code 470 PC. Forgery is a common white collar crime in California. The crime may be simple to execute, but the resulting losses to the victim can be very detrimental. The crime entails altering, making, or using a fake document with the intention of committing fraud. You can commit forgery by imitating and signing another person's signature to commit fraud. Forgery crimes are mainly committed by people seeking financial gain. For example, a defendant can forge a person's signature and use the signature to approve a check payment.

Most forgery cases go hand in hand with elder abuse cases whereby people entrusted to take care of dependent elderly persons forge the details of the elders for financial gains.

A forgery crime is not actualized until a counterfeit product is transferred to another person. For example, if you steal another person's check and sign on a check, the transaction is not complete until you hand over the check to a bank teller.

Until a forgery crime is fully executed, it remains an attempted forgery under the California Penal Code 664/470 PC. For a prosecutor to prove that you are guilty of forgery, he/she must prove that you took or altered an item belonging to another person and you did so with a specific intent to defraud the victim. 

In addition to forging the signature of a person, it is also illegal to forge the handwriting of another person without their consent.

If you are facing forgery charges, you can defend yourself by arguing that the victim permitted you to sign a document on their behalf or to imitate their handwriting. You may also assert that you did not have the intention to defraud the victim. You may also utilize the defense of not passing the document to another person. Until a forged document is passed or uttered to another person, you are not guilty of fraud. 

Forgery offense is a wobbler offense in California and may either attract misdemeanor or felony charges.  In deciding whether an offense is a misdemeanor or a felony, factors that count include the age of the forgery victim, criminal history or the defendant, and the loss resulting from the forgery. 

  • Fraud

Fraud is an act of deception often committed for financial or personal gains. Fraud is a serious offense in California and may attract felony charges, including hefty fines and imprisonment. Penalties for fraud charges depend on a wide range of factors, including the type of fraud, the victim of fraud, and the amount of money involved. Fraud is a broad term and may include a wide range of offenses. Common fraud cases include:

  • Mortgage and Real Estate Fraud- State and federal authorities are keen on uncovering and prosecuting people involved in mortgage and real estate fraud. Mortgage and real estate fraud may include loan modifications and fraudulent mortgage financing. Different people may carry out related mortgage fraud, including mortgage brokers, adjusters, title companies, real estate agents, and lenders, among others. Prospective homeowners may also be guilty of mortgage fraud if they use false information to acquire mortgage financing.
  • Insurance Fraud- An insurance fraud can be executed by an insurance policyholder or by an insurance company. For instance, a policyholder may be guilty of insurance fraud for making false insurance claims and seeking compensation for damages that did not occur.  An insurance company may be guilty of insurance fraud for withholding benefits from qualifying insurance policyholders.  Insurance frauds are common for all types of insurance policies, including health insurance, auto insurance, life insurance, or homeowners insurance.  Most insurance frauds rotate around auto insurance. It is common for policyholders to make false claims of theft of their vehicles or theft of property from vehicles to get compensation.
  • Medi-Cal Fraud - Most Medi-Cal frauds revolve around incorrect or fraudulent billing. For instance, doctors or other healthcare workers may commit Medi-Cal fraud if they bill for more services than a patient received. Health workers may also up to code for more procedures with higher compensations than the patient received.
  • Workers’ Compensation Fraud- in California, workers compensation fraud was so common that in 1991, the California state created the Workers' Compensation Fraud Task Force in 1991. The task force had a sole role; to investigate workers' compensation fraud. Workers can commit fraud by filing false claims of injury to get compensation. Employers may also commit fraud by denying deserving workers compensation after sustaining injuries. Medical practitioners may also be guilty of workers' compensation fraud if they inflate bills or exaggerate injuries suffered by a worker to claim higher compensation.

Other common forms of fraud include tax fraud, mail fraud, credit card fraud, and internet fraud.

  • Bribery

Bribery is a criminal offense in California; the crime is closely related to extortion or blackmail but is a distinct offense. You can be guilty of bribery if you give or promise to give money or another reward to receive a promised action from a person in authority.  You may also be guilty of bribery if you receive money or another reward from a person to fulfill a promised act within your authority to him/her.

There are many ways of executing bribery according to California law, including bribing of public employees or executive officers.  You may also bribe judges and jurors to get a preferential ruling in a case. You may also commit bribery within a business context, as outlined in the California commercial bribery law. 

Bribery is not the same as extortion as it does not involve the use of force or threats to make a victim honor your demands. A bribery offense occurs immediately you make an offer to give a bribe, or immediately you accept to receive a bribe. However, in extortion, the crime is not complete until a victim honors the demands of the extortionist or does what an extortionist requests him/her to do. 

  • Burglary - California Penal Code 459 PC

You may be guilty of burglary under California Penal Code 459 PC if you access another person's premises intending to commit theft through extortion or any other means. For example, if you access a residential property with the intention of threatening the homeowner and extorting money from him or her, you may face burglary charges.  A combination of burglary and extortion offenses results in double charges under Penal Code 518 PC extortion and Penal Code 459 PC, burglary. 

A burglary offense in a place inhabited by people such as a residential house is a felony offense in California while burglary of any other place is a wobbler meaning that it can be a felony or misdemeanor depending on the circumstances surrounding the offense.

  • Theft – California Penal Code 487 & 488

  You may be guilty of theft if you unlawfully take another person's property without their consent. If you unlawfully take another person's property worth more than $950, you may be guilty of grand theft (Penal Code 487). If you take property less than $950, you may face petty theft charges (Penal Code 488).  Theft is a white collar crime in California, and the applicable penalties may vary depending on the nature of the crime and the amount of money a victim loses. 

  • Appropriation of a Lost Property/Theft - California Penal Code 485

If you find lost property and you keep it for your gain without making an effort to trace the rightful owner, you may be guilty under the California Penal Code 485 that outlines how you should treat lost property.  You can only be guilty of appropriation of lost property if you find the property under circumstances that would allow you to trace the rightful owner yet you fail to make an effort to trace the property owner. The crime of appropriation of lost property may seem similar to the crime of receiving stolen property, but it is a distinct crime.

Contact an Orange County Criminal Lawyer Near Me  

Different white collar crimes have varied consequences. The consequences vary in severity depending on the nature of the white collar crime, the loss a victim suffers, and the criminal history of the defendant, among other factors. With a proper lawyer, you can take advantage of the numerous defense strategies for white collar crimes. At the Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we have a full understanding of California white collar crimes and the various defense strategies. Contact us at 714-262-4833 and schedule a meeting with one of our lawyers. Proper legal representation can help reduce your charges.