Brad Post, Host, Create the Movement: Welcome to Your Best Defense podcast. We are speaking to Oklahoma City embezzlement defense lawyer Jacqui Ford. Jacqui, how are you doing today?
Jacqui Ford, Oklahoma City Criminal Defense Attorney: I’m doing great Brad. Thank you.
B: Good! We are in a series on white-collar crimes. We’ve talked about larceny, we’ve talked about fraud, and now we’re going to be talking about embezzlement. So what are some things that the listening audience should know about embezzlement?
J: All right. Embezzlement is kind of one of those fun white-collar crimes. It’s generally not the kind of person that you might expect it to be. Oklahoma law defines embezzlement as, the fraudulent appropriation of property, of any person or legal entity, legally obtained, to any use or purpose not intended or authorized by its owner. What does that mean?
B: What does that mean?
J: Basically, what it means is you’ve been entrusted with someone’s funds, and that you have some fiduciary duty to them to use those funds in a manner in which they were intended. So, that might be that, you know, you’re the CFO of an organization. It might mean that you have check writing authority for a nonprofit agency. But, basically embezzlement means that you have legal authority to use those funds, but you’ve used them outside of your scope of authority. You used them for manner, or in a manner, that was not approved or appropriate.
So, it’s a misappropriation of funds. It’s not stealing of your own money, obviously. But money that you’ve been entrusted to. Oftentimes, you would find that the money would be held in trust for another person, maybe, or for an agency. The idea, basically, is that you’ve got access to this money, and that you’re using it, oftentimes, for your own personal gain.
J: Different from larceny – which means you didn’t have the right to have it in the first place. Different than fraud. Fraud – meaning that you were deceiving somebody, in some way, to get access to that money. Now, we haven’t taken that which didn’t belong to us. We haven’t use fraud to have access to it. We’re actually legally entitled to use and distribution of that money in some way, and we’re using it outside of what we’ve been authorized to do it.
Oftentimes, embezzlement cases, much like a number of our white-collar crimes, come from a place other than malice intent. Right? Unlike fraud, that requires purposeful meaningful deception, embezzlement, more often than not, is an otherwise good person engaged in activity that seems on its face not necessarily that offensive, usually with good intentions. If we’re guilty of the allegations, oftentimes, what we’re doing is taking the money with the intent to put it back. And, either the problems snowballed out of control, and we couldn’t ever get the money back. Or, we got caught prior to putting the money back, or something to that effect.
What can we do? You know? If you’re rightfully accused of embezzlement, the first thing you need to do is get in contact with an Oklahoma City embezzlement defense lawyer. Reaching an Oklahoma City embezzlement defense lawyer early does two things for you. It allows us to hopefully step in early in the investigation, and either cut the investigation off, or start facilitating and working along with law enforcement, so that we can ultimately come to a positive resolution.
So, as your lawyer, there are a number of things that I can do on a pre-filing basis. I can interject myself, because everything you say all the people are investigating can be used against you. Oftentimes, people get confused about what their rights are. If you’re accused of taking money from your employer, and your employer calls you into his office and start asking you questions. One, he’s not law-enforcement. He is not an arm of the government. And you have no rights to Miranda. Okay? So, people say, “They didn’t even read me my rights!” Well, they don’t have to. All right? What they have to do is best meet their shareholders’ needs, and that’s their ultimate goal.
And you don’t have any of the Constitutional protections that we think of. If you hire an Oklahoma City embezzlement defense lawyer early, that’s one of the things that I do. I can sit down with your employer and either negotiate your exiting the company. I can help negotiate some sort of “mending of the fences” probationary period moving forward.
Or, we can do whatever we have to do to prove up our innocence. Which is oftentimes, what we do too. Just because you’re accused of it, doesn’t mean you’re guilty of it. Right? So, how we handle it, is going to be determined based upon whether we’re factually guilty or not. And if we are factually guilty, that’s okay. That’s not the end of the day, either. The first thing we need to do is see what we can do to replenish the funds. Whether the money was taken from a checking account of a corporation or a nonprofit. At the end of the day, public policy insists that we make the victims whole. I want the victims made whole. The government is going to want the victims made whole. And most likely my clients, by the time they find themselves in this position, ultimately want them made whole anyway, because it wasn’t from a malicious, dark, deviant place.
And that’s one of the things I think people sometimes misjudge. You know? The kind of person who is charged with embezzlement isn’t the kind of regular criminal we think of. We’ve already established that their entrusted by somebody to being in charge of money that isn’t theirs. There is a level of trust that exists. This person is working within their community, hopefully for the betterment of the community. And when you violate that trust, the reputation sting is really bad. The guilt, the shame, and the embarrassment.
So, when you contact an Oklahoma City embezzlement lawyer early, not only do I get to help you with your employer, I can also help you mend those relationships within the community. If this is a high profile thing, we can sometimes shape that story a little bit differently than law enforcement might shape that story. We can sit down with your friends and family, and explain how we find ourselves here.
Every single one of these cases that I’ve had where my clients were factually guilty, I’m going to tell you something, they never came from a place of evil or malice, or even entitlement. Also, it almost always comes from a good place and good intentions that just spiraled out of control. When you know you’ve done something wrong, and you’ve been caught, and you’re feeling that shame, and that embarrassment, and that humiliation to your reputation, it’s hard to defend yourself.
J: Number one, you think my excuses don’t matter. Nobody is going to understand. And excuses probably don’t matter. An explanation of how we find ourselves here does. An explanation of how the family, together, is going to move through the public humiliation, the criminal justice system, and hopefully come out whole again, on the back-end, is something that we can help facilitate too.
So, we’ve got embezzlement at all kinds of levels – at the state level and the federal level. And one of the things that is important for people to realize the value of the money that is taken is going to directly affect the punishment assessed. Much like with larceny, anything under $500 was petty larceny. Anything over is grand larceny. With embezzlement the money value is important too. Greater than $500 but less than $1000, is going to be one set of punishment. Greater than $1000-$25,000 is another set of punishment, up to five years. $25,000, or more, carries up to 10 years in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
So, the value of money that’s taken is directly related to the punishment. Certainly your role, if you are a public officer or legislator, that holds an even greater level of trust within the community, your range of punishment is going to be even greater. It’s going to be up to 20 years.
A lot of times we’ll see people charged with embezzlement when they’re the trustee of an estate.
J: You know? If you’re the trustee of an estate, and you’re embezzling from an estate, you’d better bet you’ll lose your share of that estate. And any fiduciary obligations that you have are going to be removed from you as well.
So, there’s a lot of things to think about with embezzlement charges. But one of the most important I think, is figuring out how we find ourselves here. If a good person, who is not engaged in otherwise bad things, is doing this kind of crime, something’s going on. There’s a strong likelihood that we can identify the underlying issue being one of the following three things: 1) a drug and alcohol abuse issue, 2) a gambling issue is oftentimes an underlying concern of people charged with embezzlement. And if it’s not one of those two things, I can promise you their personal life is in absolute disarray.
Embezzlement, and crimes like this, are crimes of desperation. It’s either trying to keep up with the Joneses, maintain a lifestyle that you had prior to your divorce, being able to present yourself to be worthy of those to who you owe this duty to. You know? And so people are trying to, without being flippant, keep up with the Joneses. Right? Keep up appearances so that people don’t recognize that maybe you aren’t smart enough to be in this position. You know? And it rarely has to do with that. Those are our own self-perceived things that we think people think about. And if those things are going on with you, those are very normal things. You know? People don’t ever come into my office because they’re having a great day. They come into my office because they’re either accused of something horrible, or they’ve done something horrible. And they want help coming out on the other side of it.
And we can do that. Identifying the underlying issue is just one of the things that we do. And then getting you to a place that can help facilitate that treatment. If it’s gambling, we need to get you to gamblers anonymous. There’s counselors and psychiatrists that really specialize in people with gambling addictions. They’re different than people with other kinds of substance abuse addictions. I’m not going to send a gambling addict to a drug and alcohol counselor. I’m not going to send an alcohol addict to gambling counselor.
B: Right. Right.
J: You know? If it comes down to the overall personal life is in disarray, then there are people that can help us fix that, too. You know? And these are slow processes. But certainly, if you are accused of embezzlement, and you’ve engaged in activity that makes you factually guilty, one the first things we’re going to have do is start coming up the money to make them whole. Make them whole, and make you whole. That’s my ultimate goal at the end of it. We can avoid jail time. I mean, that’s “cake”. Right? But it’s one of those myths that people think white-collar crimes don’t include jail time. Just pony up the money, and everybody goes home. I think Martha Stewart would strongly disagree.
J: When we start thinking about some our high profile people, and people will go to prison for white-collar crimes every day. So, don’t be fooled by believing that that’s not going to happen. You know? If you’re stealing money from an FDIC-insured bank, you better bet that they’re going to report you. They are mandatory reporters. There’s nothing I can do in negotiating with them to get them to not report. But, there’s a lot that I can do to limit the damage once they do report.
J: So, the biggest thing is don’t let the guilt, and the shame, and the embarrassment hold you back. The sooner you reach out to an Oklahoma embezzlement defense attorney, the better off you are.
B: Right. All right. Anything else?
J: No, I think that’s it.
B: You’ve been listening to Oklahoma City embezzlement defense lawyer Jacqui Ford – Your Best Defense. Join us for our next edition.