Embezzlement in Florida and elsewhere in the US is a type of property theft. It happens when a defendant who was entrusted to manage the money or property of another person or entity, steals some or all of those assets for their own personal gain. The key legal aspect in this type of case is that the defendant had legal access to the money or property of another person or entity. They did not have legal ownership of the property.
Embezzlement can happen in many ways. A bank teller who has access to client cash could take the money for her own gain. Or, an officer of a company might embezzle funds that belong to that firm. Another example is a family member stealing the money of a family member they are caring for. See a complete list of federal embezzlement charges.
Embezzlement is a white collar crime that usually carries harsh penalties in Florida. Embezzlement usually involves funds or assets being misappropriated, and it is not always clear if you or the accused person had legal access to the funds. This can lead to improper allegations being made against you due to simple mistakes or miscommunication.
Four Factors Required for a Florida Embezzlement Conviction
For there to be embezzlement, three things must be present for the prosecutor to convict you:
- There has to be a financial relationship between you and the victim; this is known as a fiduciary relationship. This means that the victim relied upon you and trusted you to handle funds or property. Typical fiduciary relationships where embezzlement occurs includes between bankers and clients, stock brokers and clients, or employees providing accounting services to a company.
- You must have gotten the property through this fiduciary relationship and transferred the funds to yourself or a third party. It is not enough that you had access to the funds. You must have used this access to take the property for your own use and purposes.
- You must have taken intentional actions. If you made a mistake in transferring funds to yourself that belong to your company, and you can prove it was a mistake, this probably is not embezzlement.
Florida Laws and Penalties
In Florida, embezzlement is punished by how much the property is worth. It can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending upon the value of the funds stolen. Large dollar amounts will be prosecuted as felonies.
- First degree felony: A defendant in Florida who embezzles property or money in the following situations will be charged with a first degree felony: If the property is worth $100,000 or more; if the property is cargo from the loading platform of a ship that is valued at $50,000 or more; if it is stolen during a state of emergency that was declared by the governor of Florida. Penalties are a fine of up to $10,000 or 30 years in prison, or both.
- Second degree felony: You will be charged with a second degree felony if the property is valued at $20,000 or more but less than $100,000; emergency medical equipment that is worth $300 or more; any property that is listed under third degree felony below, if it is stolen during a state of emergency. Anyone who coordinates with others to embezzle money and property that is worth over $3000 also will be charged with a second degree felony. Penalties include a fine of as much as $10,000, and 15 years in prison, or both.
- Third degree felony: You will be charged with a third degree felony if the property is worth more than $300 or less than $20,000; if the property is a will or other similar instrument; a firearm of any kind; a commercial animal; fire extinguisher; any quantity of citrus fruit that is more than 2000 pieces. Also it is a third degree felony to embezzle any property that is worth over $100. Punishment is a fine of up to $5000, or five years in prison or both.
- First degree misdemeanor: You will be charged with a first degree misdemeanor if the property is worth $100 or more but is less than $300. The defendant who has 1-2 misdemeanor theft convictions also will be punished as if he committed a first degree misdemeanor. Penalties include a $500 fine or up to 60 days in jail, or both.
- Second degree misdemeanor: Any embezzlement of property that is not mentioned above is a second degree misdemeanor. Penalties include a fine of up to $500, 60 days in jail, or both.
Florida law also states that if you are convicted, you can have your driver’s license suspended. If you are adjudicated guilty for a first embezzlement offense, this can result in a six month license suspension. If you are convicted for a second offense, the driver’s license suspension can be for a year.
Florida Embezzlement Penalties
As in most states, an embezzlement conviction in Florida leads to fines and prison time. Most states, including Florida, punish embezzlement based upon how much money or property was stolen. Usually, states will list the monetary ranges, as in the Florida statutes cited above, with the related fines and jail sentences.
Some states, including Florida, list property types that incur specific prison terms and fines. For instance, in Florida and some other states, anhydrous ammonia, which is used to make methamphetamine, is one type of property that can be punished harshly for embezzling.
Florida embezzlement charges are serious. But fortunately there are several effective defense you can use to fight them. Below are the five most common and effective embezzlement defenses:
- Show that you did not actually take the money. This is a straightforward defense that can be effective. Your defense attorney will attempt to find evidence that you did not take the funds that you were accused of taking.
- Show that you took the funds for a legitimate reason. A common reason for being charged with embezzlement in Florida is that a person took money from their company’s bank account. But if you can show that you took the money for legitimate reasons and not for your own gain, this could result in a dismissal of charges. You must show you had business reasons to take the funds that you are accused of embezzling and did not take the money for personal gain.
- Not enough evidence. If you can show there is not sufficient evidence to prove you committed embezzlement, this can be a very strong defense. Your attorney will attempt to show there is reasonable doubt regarding various aspects of the charges.
- No intent to commit a crime. It is impossible to commit embezzlement accidentally. Some people are able to get charges dismissed if they can prove that they thought they were the owners of the money or property.
- If you thought that you or a loved one could suffer harm if you did not take the money, then you might be able to show you acted under duress. This could get you an acquittal. However, what is and is not duress is a complicated matter. It is not thought to be duress if you took the money to provide things for your family. There has to be proof that harm would have come to your family as a direct result of not engaging in embezzlement.
An effective defense attorney can use these defenses in a number of ways. For instance, you might show the judge your bank statements that show there was not a link between business debits and deposits in your own account. Also, obtaining the financial records of the company can show that other people also had access to the funds that are missing. If the defense can create enough that you were responsible for the missing funds, it may be impossible to convict you.
Bank and company records also might show the missing funds were simply put into the incorrect account and were not stolen.
If the attorney cannot get the case dismissed, they may be able to get a plea bargain for a reduced sentence. The attorney may convince the judge that you will pay restitution for any funds still missing. It is possible the court may allow you to not go to jail and incur additional fines. Occasionally, charges may be dropped if you pay restitution.
Statute of Limitations on Florida
Embezzlement victims in Florida have four years from when the crime occurred to file a civil claim. However, keep in mind that the Discovery Rule in Florida allows as long as 12 years to file the suit from the date the crime happened to when the embezzlement was not found out until later. If the crime is a felony, the statute of limitations is five years
Recent Florida Embezzlement Cases
- Town Left High and Dry After Director Accused of Funneling Funds to Florida Mistress – The finance director of a town in Connecticut is arrested for embezzling funds to support a Florida mistress to the tune of $2.3 million.
- Former Turnberry NV Controller Sentenced in $6 Million Embezzlement Involving Florida – Nevada controller gets 37 months in prison for embezzling funds to company accounts in Florida.
- Should Florida Allow Resort Casinos? Some Say No Due to Embezzlement Fears – Some Floridians do not want resort casinos because of some of the problems associated with them, including problem gambling and embezzlement of funds.
Top Cities in Florida for Embezzlement Charges
- Tampa-St. Petersburg
- Cape Coral
- Palm Bay-Melbourne
- Port St. Lucie
- Palm Coast-Daytona Beach-Port Orange
- Bonita Springs
- Winter Haven
- Fort Walton Beach-Navarre-Wright
- North Port-Port Charlotte
- Sebastian-Vero Beach South-Florida Ridge
- Spring Hill
- Panama City
- Lady Lake-The Villages
- Homosassa Springs-Beverly Hills-Citrus Springs
- Sebring-Avon Park
- 2017 Florida Statutes. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0800-0899/0812/Sections/0812.081.html
- Florida Embezzlement Laws. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://statelaws.findlaw.com/florida-law/florida-embezzlement-laws.html