When public officials, entrepreneurs, and other professionals use nonviolent ways to commit crimes like deception or fraud for financial gain, they can be arrested and charged with white-collar crimes. If you are facing these charges in Los Angeles, CA, it is critical to reaching out to The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm for legal help. Our lawyers are experienced in defending clients facing white-collar crimes such as embezzlement, forgery, extortion, perjury, and bribery.
California PEN 518 defines extortion as applying threats to oblige people to hand over their cash, merchandise, or property. It also involves the use of force to compel someone who holds a public office to take part in a formal matter or a public official compelling someone to give up property or money using formal rights.
What the Prosecution Must Prove
The prosecution must show the following aspects to the jury or the judge:
- The defendant threatened to use illegal force on the victim or his or her property, threatened to accuse the victim, relative or family member of a crime, or threatened to expose a secret involving the victim or connecting them to a scandal.
- During the time of threat or use of force, the defendant intended to make the victim consent to transfer property or to perform an official act.
- The outcome of the threat was consent to transfer property or do an official act.
- There was an actual transfer of property or money by the victim to the defendant.
Extortion can also be accomplished in the form of a threatening message. The California Penal Code 532 defines extortion by threatening letter as sending or delivering a threatening letter to a person with the intention to:
- Injure the victim or damage their property
- Accuse the victim, their relative, or family member of an illegal act
- Expose a secret about the victim or connect them to a scandal or crime
Public officials, accountants, or procurement officers can use threats to get a signature. California Penal Code 522 defines extortion of signature as making threats to another person, using the threats to acquire another person’s name on a document or check that would lead to the transfer of property or unlawful act, and due to the danger posed by the defendant, the victim signed the paper or check.
Penalties for Violating Penal Code 518
If you are convicted of extortion blackmail, the penalties will be two, three, or four years in county jail, a fine of $10,000, and/or probation. In case an attempt to extort another person fails, you will be charged with attempted extortion. If you are convicted of attempted extortion, the penalties for this misdemeanor include:
- Up to one year in jail
- A maximum fine of $1,000
- Misdemeanor probation
For felony attempted extortion, the penalties are:
- Felony probation
- A fine of $10,000
- A minimum sentence of sixteen months
Bribery is defined as offering something of value to an executive officer or public official with the intent to affect their official acts. Both the person giving and receiving bribe face bribery charges. Two laws cover bribery crimes - the California Penal Code Section 67 and Penal Code 68.
Elements that Prosecution Must Prove in Bribery Charges
If you are being charged with trying to bribe an executive officer or ministerial officer, the prosecution must show you offered to give public employee money or something of value, with corrupt intent, to influence the public officer’s ability to perform his or her official action or matter.
Bribery is not very different from extortion since they both involve the use of leverage to get something. The only difference is that in bribery, money is used as leverage while in extortion, fear is used as leverage.
Penalties for Bribery
If you or a loved one is convicted of bribery, the penalties are:
- Forfeit of office.
- Sentence to a county jail or California State prison.
- If the bribe was not received, you pay a restitution fee of $2,000 to $10,000.
- Were the bribe was received, you will pay a fine of the amount of bribe received or $2,000. If the bribe amount is less than $2,000, you will pay the $2,000 fine, but if it is more, you pay the amount that was received as a bribe.
- Also, you can pay a restitution fine not exceeding double the amount resulting from the action or $10,000.
Penal Code 503 defines embezzlement as a false conversion of items or money of another person by someone whom the property has been entrusted. Fraudulent appropriation of property that is lawfully in your possession can be charged under the Penal Code 503 PC or Penal Code Section 487. Violation of PC 503 is considered a white-collar crime while violation of PC 487 is deemed to be grand theft.
Another law that defines embezzlement is Penal Code 504. The law focuses on public officials of California, county, and municipal employees who appropriate fraudulent property that is legally in their possession in a manner that violates your employment as a public official.
Elements the Prosecution Must Provide to Convict the Defendant
- The defendant has a relationship with the victim, for instance, employer and employee.
- Within the relationship, the victim or employer entrusted you with items of value or money.
- You converted or took the money or property of the victim to deny them ownership.
If you are convicted of embezzling property or money of up to $650, the penalties include restitution, a fine not exceeding $1,000, or a maximum of six months in jail. The penalties for embezzling property whose value is $650 to an amount not exceeding $3,500 are restitution, a sentence to state prison of between one & five years or a ten thousand dollar fine. When convicted of embezzlement of an amount of $3,500 and higher, the penalties are restitution, one to ten years in prison or a ten thousand dollar fine.
California Penal Code 470, also referred to as forgery statute, defines forgery as making or using false writing with intent to commit fraud. One commits forgery if he or she:
- Has the mindset or a particular purpose of defrauding someone else
- Signs another individual’s name or signature for personal gains
- Gives incorrect legal documents
By signing someone’s name and signature on a document or check, the conduct is a crime. However, forgery is completed when the person who has falsified the document hands it over to another person like a teller. In case you are arrested before depositing a falsified check to a bank account, you will be charged under PEN 664/470, which prohibits attempted forgery.
When a person manages to hand over the check to a teller, already the prosecution can prove the element of intent or mindset to commit forgery, which completes this crime. Below are the features that the prosecution must prove:
Penalties for California Forgery Charge
Forgery can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor. Your case will depend on your prior criminal record, the age of the victim, and the amount of loss. For a misdemeanor, the penalties include:
- Up to 364 days of jail.
- One thousand dollars fine.
Felony forgery conviction penalties are:
- Prison sentence of three years, or
- Ten thousand dollars fine for forging check whose amount exceeds $400.
The penalties for felonies are harsh, and the sentence can increase based on the criminal record of the defendant and the scope of loss.
California Penal Code 502 defines computer fraud as a fraudulent activity such as unlawful access, altering, deleting, destroying, or contaminating data through a computer, more specifically when it occurs through the internet.
Crimes Relating to Computer Fraud
- Identity theft. One commits identity theft when they steal personal information of the victim and use it for unlawful purposes.
- Internet investment fraud that involves scheming to lure the victim into investing capital to a nonexistent firm.
- Communications fraud. You commit this type of computer fraud if you use internet services without paying or sharing copyrighted music or films without paying the required amounts.
- Acquiring information that compromises national security.
- Spreading computer virus.
Penalties for Computer Fraud
The penalties for felony computer fraud include:
- A $10,000 fine, or
- One year and four months, twenty-four months, or thirty-six months prison sentence.
If the charges are filed as a misdemeanor, the punishment includes:
- A fine of $5,000, and
- A one year sentence in jail.
It is vital to be careful about these charges since a permanent criminal record of computer fraud can ruin your career and personal relationships.
What the Prosecution Must Prove
The prosecutor must show the jury that the defendant accessed data or information fraudulently and used it for personal or financial gain.
Credit Card Fraud
Credit, debit, or access card fraud is defined by the federal and California law. Title 18 refers to this form of cheating as unlawfully using an access or debit card without the permission of the rightful owner, or its agent with the intent to commit fraud. California credit card fraud laws, on the other hand, define this type of white-collar crime as attempting to use card account number fraudulently.
When one uses a credit card or account number to commit fraud, they violate specific laws. These laws include the following.
- Penal Code 484e PC Stolen Credit Cards Law
PC 484e was enacted to punish those who fraudulently possess credit, debit, and access cards without the consent of the owner. The prosecution can file this case as a felony or misdemeanor.
The penalties for violating felony PC 484e are:
- Probation plus 12 months in jail, or
- Sixteen, two, or three years jail term,
- A maximum fine of ten thousand dollars.
For a misdemeanor, the penalties are a 12 months jail term and one thousand dollars fine.
- PEN 484f Forging Credit Card Information
The law defines forging credit card information as altering details after making a transaction, using a credit card knowingly and unlawfully to benefit yourself financially or for personal gain. The penalties for forging credit card information are sixteen, two, or three years of a prison sentence.
- PEN 484g
If someone willfully creates or forges a credit or debit card for financial gain or personal gain, they would be charged under PEN 484g. If convicted of obtaining money or goods of an amount up to $950, you will be punishable under the felony grand theft law. For those goods, services, or money exceeding $950, the punishment is similar to that of petty theft once you are convicted - you will be sentenced to the county jail for six months or pay a fine up to $1,000.
- PEN 484h
A retailer violates PC 484h when he or she furnishes goods, services, or cash after an individual presents an illegal card. The penalties for violating this law are similar to those of petty theft if the amount or value of items or cash is not more than $950. Retailers are punished under grand theft law if the money or service in question has a cost of $950 and above.
California Penal Code 530.5(e) defines mail fraud or theft as stealing mail from a mailbox or a letter carrier, deceiving or attempting to acquire mail from another source, removing the contents of a stolen mail, hiding a stolen mail, or knowingly having a stolen letter.
Penalties for Mail Fraud
Mail theft is filed as a misdemeanor, and the punishment includes:
- A sentence of twelve months
- Summary probation
- One thousand dollars in fine
California insurance fraud is the act of trying to falsify information on an insurance policy, faking an accident to receive compensation from the insurance company, or burning down the property to get repaid by the insurance company. Insurance fraud is defined differently by various laws as follows:
- California Penal Code Section 548(a)
Under this code, it is illegal or prohibited to knowingly injure, destroy, secrete, abandon, or dispose of a property that has a valid insurance policy against loss or theft with the intent to commit fraud. If you are convicted of these charges, the penalties are:
- Up to $50,000, or
- Two, three, or five years of imprisonment in state prison.
- California Penal Code 549
PEN 549 prohibits an individual from soliciting or referring business to or from a person or entity, knowing that they intend to defraud the insurer by making a fraudulent claim.
Also, it is codified under PC 550 that a felony or misdemeanor charge will be filed against you if arrested for insurance fraud doing the following things:
- Assisting in submitting or submitting a false insurance claim
- Submit numerous claims for the same loss or accident
- Willfully take part in a vehicular collision to submit a false claim
- Willfully make a fraudulent claim for medical care payment
- Present a fraudulent claim for theft or damage of a car
- Present a claim to support a false claim
If convicted for any of the above, the penalties include:
- Probation, or
- Jail time not exceeding six months, and
- A fine of $1,000, or
- Restitution of the unlawfully acquired insurance proceeding for healthcare insurance.
For health care insurance fraud, if convicted, the penalties are:
- $50,000 fine, or
- Double the illegally obtained insurance proceedings, and
- A period not exceeding five years in prison.
One commits a crime of perjury if they willfully lie in writing or orally while under oath. The charge is filed as a felony, and it applies to people who lie in the court either through a sworn statement or in writing. If convicted, the penalties include up to three years in state prison.
Other Types of White Collar Crimes
- Financial crimes
- Money laundering
- Insider trading
- Mortgage fraud
- Income tax fraud
- Welfare fraud
- Bank fraud
- Receiving stolen property
Aggravated White-Collar Crimes
Some of the white-collar crimes in California receive enhanced conviction than others. According to California Penal Code 186.11, if an offender has a pattern of related felony offenses like embezzlement or forgery, they are charged with aggravated white-collar crimes. Some of the elements the prosecution must prove in aggravated white-collar crimes include:
- Loss of money, services or items whose value is $100,000 or higher
- Two or more felonies committed in one criminal proceeding either on the same victim, separate victims, or different victims in different situations
Penalties for Aggravated White-collar Crimes
When an offender is convicted of this type of crime, he or she receives additional punishment to what is given for white-collar convictions. Therefore, after serving the penalties for white-collar crime, you will consecutively:
- Serve a prison sentence of one to two years for a crime involving loss of amounts exceeding $100,000 but less than $500,000
- Serve two, three, or five years of prison time
- Pay a fine of up to $100,000, or double the amount of loss the victim incurred whichever is higher
- Pay a fine of $500,000 or double the value of loss for those charged with felony conduct resulting in loss of more than $500,000
Elements the Prosecution Must Prove in White Collar Crimes
The trial must show that the accused willfully committed a wrongful act.
The defendant must have been aware he or she is defrauding the victim.
The victim was entirely counting on the defendant’s scheme.
- Disguise and concealment
The defendant concealed the criminal activity.
General Legal Defenses for White Collar Crimes
For the best possible defense in the above-mentioned crimes, your defense lawyer should bring up the following arguments:
- The prosecution lacks adequate evidence to convict the defendant.
- The defendant had no knowledge about the scheme to defraud or had no intent. For instance, when being charged with tax fraud, it is possible that you made a mistake during tax filing; thus, you had no intention to commit fraud.
- The defendant was not aware if he or she was providing false information that led to the credit card or insurance fraud.
- A plea agreement can also be used. This defense applies if the evidence against the defendant is overwhelming. The defendant pleads guilty to avoid trial and instead get a lesser sentence.
- Not every false statement by the defendant was fraudulent. This defense applies if the defendant is being accused of giving incorrect information to the victim. The attorney can argue that the defendant expressed an opinion that the victim misunderstood.
- The defendant was tricked or set up by a law enforcement officer to perform the fraudulent act. Entrapment happens a lot for suspects of white-collar crimes. If you are induced to embezzle property or extort someone, as long as you can prove it, the charges can be dropped.
- The defendant could not understand the nature of the criminal act due to his or her mental or physical incapacity. If a defendant is blind, he or she cannot forge a signature, which gives them good defense.
- The defendant was intoxicated. Being able to prove intoxication in these cases by arguing the defendant wasn’t in control of his or her actions will help bargain a lesser sentence.
Any person who has been arrested for white-collar crime is likely to face state or federal prosecution. These cases are taken very serious by investigative agencies because usually, their victims suffer substantial financial losses. Some of the federal agencies that take over these investigations include the FBI and the Secret Service. The investigations by these agencies are thorough and can unearth other crimes. Therefore, when facing these accusations, whether they are serious allegations or not, it is vital to take the necessary measures by having a knowledgeable legal counsel.
Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Many people are wrongly accused or wrongfully convicted of committing white-collar crimes. Therefore, it is critical to ensure that your rights are protected and avoid paying huge fines, serving prison time, or having your property seized for restitution. If you need a knowledgeable and experienced Los Angeles lawyer to help fight white-collar crime, please reach out to The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm at 310-935-1675. We are ready to fight tirelessly to defend you!