Embezzlement cases are frequent property crime offenses. These cases arise when people entrust their property to others, but the entrusted party ends up using the property unlawfully. Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm represents people charged with this offense throughout Vista, CA and North County.

Definition of California Penal Code 503 PC Embezzlement

Embezzlement is one of the most common property crimes whereby a person unlawfully retains property entrusted to them. Even though embezzlement and theft have similarities in that conviction in both cases depend on the property value, the two crimes have a slim difference. Embezzlement usually involves a fiduciary relationship between the victim and the respondent – a relationship in which one party places special trust and confidence on the other party, with a duty to realize benefits to the entrusting party. The defendant might have been entrusted with money or property by the victim in order to accomplish some duties. Instead, the party entrusted misappropriated the property or money for their own benefits other than the expected usage by the victim.

California embezzlement has elements that are determined to differentiate it from larceny or theft. The property in question must have been entrusted to the respondent directly or through the help of an agency. In other words, the respondent had a management right over the money or the property. Similarly, the defendant must have taken advantage of the trust relationship between them and the victim, thus, using the property for personal gain, and so doing, the defendant must have had an intention of depriving the victim of the property either temporarily or permanently. Note that regardless of the defendant’s intention to return the properties to the victim, they are still liable to charges of embezzlement.

An embezzlement is a form of theft or larceny (unlawfully taking someone’s property or business with an intent to deprive the rightful owner of it permanently). Although both theft and embezzlement revolve around money and property, the value and misappropriation of funds, embezzlement laws are applicable whether the accused had permanent or temporary intention. In embezzlement, the defendant is entrusted with a property/money and later misappropriated it. There must be a “fiduciary relationship” between the two parties for embezzlement to occur. This is unlike in theft where there is no relationship or entrusting of the property by the victim to the defendant.

Occurrence of Embezzlement in California

Embezzlement occurs in various forms. The most common form is when organizations entrust their employees access to the organization’s funds. In return, these entities expect these employees to safeguard and use the funds according to the purposes to which they were intended. It’s unlawful for the employees to intentionally convert the funds into their personal benefits. This can be through diversion of the funds into accounts that are unauthorized to receive such payments. The accounts might belong to a third party in collaboration with the employees. The embezzling employee might as well design fake receipts for the organizational activities that never took place. They would then try to legitimize the funds' transfer by disguising receipts and invoices. Consequently, the entity can file embezzlement charges against its employee (s).

A similar instance of embezzlement occurs when embezzlers join forces with partners in construction. These partners, in return, issue out fake invoices and receive the stipulated payments for a construction activity that never happened. Therefore, the embezzler would be paid for a service that he/she never performed. Some embezzlers are scammers who entice investors in trusting them with their properties for investment. The embezzler would then use the money realized from the investment for their personal enrichment; they would attract more investors in trying to appease current investors hence making more profits in return.

The Prosecutor’s Need for Proof on Embezzlement Cases

In order for the accused to be convicted, the prosecutor must prove beyond doubt that the crime charged is embezzlement and not any other form of theft. Thus, three elements are critical in distinguishing embezzlement from other crimes:

  1. There was an existing fiduciary relationship between the defendant and the complainant. Also known as the relationship of trust, this element holds only if the property owner entrusted their property to the accused because they trusted the accused. Different scenarios would supplement this element. The first and the most common scenario is when the accused was/is an employee of the complainant. Another instance would involve the accused being a board member, a principal, or a trustee of an organization.

  2. The defendant fraudulently took or used the property. In this case, fraudulently means the accused took advantage of another part or breached trust and confidence to cause the owner’s loss.

  3. The defendant had the intention of depriving the owner his/her property or the property use. This is usually a challenging task for prosecutors and a common battleground element for defense attorneys. Regardless, the decision rests on the judge to rule whether the prosecutor’s proof of intent is satisfactory. Otherwise, the charges would not be punishable under penal code 503. Note that, a claim by the defendant that they intended to return the property does not qualify for defense against the embezzlement charges; that is, the intention to deprive the property even temporarily is a valid embezzlement element.

Related Offenses to California Embezzlement

California embezzlement can be charged along with other offenses that involve misappropriation of funds. These offenses include;

California Penal Code 470 (forgery)

A judge is likely to convict the defendant for forgery if they intentionally and knowingly alter an already existing document and later uses it for personal gain. False impersonation of a will or plentiful alteration of the same for personal advantages is considered forgery in the state.

Take, for example, a company set up where an employee is entrusted to be in charge of signing banker’s check (for the manager) that are intended to be used for production purposes. The employee then diverts the intended usage of the check and instead, buys a personal car. Since the signed check bears the manager’s name, the manager can file a case against the employee for both forgery and embezzlement.

Forgery is a wobbler, which means it can be charged and punished as either a misdemeanor or felony depending on the value of the properties in question. Misdemeanor forgery has a maximum jail sentence of a year while a felony forgery renders the defendant for sixteen months, two, or three years imprisonment. However, the imprisonment would range from two to four years if counterfeiting is involved. Counterfeiting essentially means that a person imitates or duplicates documents unlawfully.


According to California state law (penal code 459 PC), burglary is defined as intentionally breaking into a building or any enclosed structure without prior authorization in order to commit a felony. While prosecuting burglary, the prosecutor has to prove that the defendant really broke into a building, a room, a store, or a locked vehicle with the intention of committing theft. A burglary can be either first degree or second degree. In first degree burglary, the structure or building should be someone’s residence. On the other hand, a second-degree burglary means that the building or structure is used for other purposes other than residence, for instance, a business premise. Consequently, second-degree burglary is also known as commercial burglary while first degree is known as residential burglary.

Burglary in a residence is charged as a felony. The convict can face two, four, or six years in state prison. On the other hand, commercial burglary is a wobbler: as a misdemeanor, the convict can face a county jail term of up to one year, while a felony punishment involves 16 months, two, or three years in county jail.


Theft is the acquisition of property or money without the knowledge of the owner. The offense is broadly categorized as either grand theft or petty theft based on the value of the property stolen. Penal code 487 defines grand theft as stealing/taking properties of a huge value (exceeding $950) from someone without their knowledge. On the other hand, PC 484 petty theft involves stealing properties of value less than $950.

Grand theft can be charged as misdemeanor or felony. If the defendant is convicted of misdemeanor grand theft, they maximum county jail term would be one year. Felony grand theft conviction would incarcerate the accused for 16 months, two years, or three years. Alternatively, the judge may choose to punish a felony grand theft with a felony probation with a maximum of one year in county jail.

Accepting to be a custodian of stolen property is illegal in California. A person would have violated code 496 PC if they receive stolen property and presumes its custody. The accusation also considers whether the owner of the property authorizes (or had knowledge) the defendant for custody of the property or not. The law mainly concentrates on who is actually in possession of the stolen property during the accusation. The jurisdiction can likely charge such a person (in possession) with theft and custody of a stolen property."

Public funds misappropriation.

Under penal code 424, it’s illegal for any government employee to misappropriate public funds. This happens when employees try to alter government records, creates false financial records, and/or completely removes the records for their own personal gain. This act of fraudulent behavior is termed intentional and unlawful in California state law. This is charged as a direct felony embezzlement where the defendant is possibly sentenced to two, three, or four years in state prison.

Note that any defendant can be charged with one or more of the above offenses alongside embezzlement. This depends on the circumstances of the crime and the value of the said properties. In such, a defense attorney would seek to reduce the charges leveled. In most of the wobbler theft offenses, a good move would be to apply for resentencing in accordance with Proposition 47. The proposition makes it possible for a serious offense to be charged as a shoplifting-misdemeanor, thereby reducing the severity of the penalties.

California Embezzlement Penalties

The penalty leveled on the defendant depends on the value of the property or money defrauded. Embezzlement is a property crime that can either be misdemeanor or felony. If the defendant embezzled a property of a value less 950 dollars, they are punished in a similar way as petty theft. The punishment would include a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, a maximum of six months in a county jail, and/or a misdemeanor probation. 

For felony embezzlement, the property embezzled should exceed a value of $950. In this case, the offense is treated and punished as a grand theft (provided that the property in question is not a firearm nor a vehicle). Also, embezzlement involving firearms is always a felony.

Felony embezzlement involving a firearm carries such penalties as; a formal probation, a maximum fine of ten thousand dollars and/or 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years state imprisonment. The same punishments would apply for a felony embezzlement without firearms; however, the person would be sentenced to a county jail rather than state prison.

In case the victim in question suffers a huge monetary loss of the property, one is likely to face additional sentences if convicted with felony embezzlement. When the defrauded amount exceeds valuations of 65,000 dollars, the court may add a penalty of an additional year on top of the usual court penalty; an additional sentence of two years if the value exceeds 200,000 dollars; an additional three years sentence if the value exceeds 1.3 million dollars; an addition of four years to the sentence for property worth over 3.2 million dollars.

If the respondent is involved in embezzling public funds, they undergo a distinctive state law established for punishing such crimes. When public funds are embezzled, the defendant is sentenced to state prison and denied a chance of holding any public office whatsoever in their life. Fortunately, the defendant can be lucky enough to mitigate the penalties or prevent embezzlement charges from being filed against them if he/she returns the property embezzled before a prosecution. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they can do away with a property crime conviction.

Aggravating Factors for California Embezzlement

Aggravating factors (any factor of the crime that increases the defendant’s culpability for committing the offense) makes embezzlement charges more serious. Extra penalties can be added to the defendant upon conviction of embezzlement. A defendant can undergo a “white collar crime enhancement” if they have been convicted for two or more similar crimes that involve fraud and/or embezzlement – which when the value of the fraud/embezzled property, when summed up, results to a value more than $100,000. For such a case, the defendant would incur a five-year prison enhancement in addition to the previous sentence incurred during their felony convictions.

There is a special trust between any dependent person and the person taking care of them. There are cases where the elderly persons are related to the defendant; the elderly might be physically or mentally disabled and/or the defendant might be living in a place where individuals are dependent and needs to be assisted in order to carry on their daily activities. Such areas include orphanages and mental facilities. Embezzlement in such instances is aggravated by the old age and the dependency factor of the victim under California penal code 368 elder abuse. This leads to an enhancement of extra penalties during sentencing.

Defense Strategies for Embezzlement

The defendant can claim in good faith that they had ownership rights over the alleged embezzled property. If the defense team can present a compelling explanation on how and why the defendant thought it was legal, rightful, and legitimate to use the property in question for personal gain, the judge may drop the case. This defense depends on the fact that indeed the defendant didn’t conceal the property, but acted in open light.

The defendant had no intention to commit embezzlement. The law expects the prosecution to prove that the defendant intended to deprive the victim of the property either temporarily or permanently. The defense attorney has to take advantage of the requirement for proof of intent, which involves a tough process in paperwork for charging an embezzlement. Simply put, the defense attorney would show the judge that the proof of intent by the prosecutor is not satisfactory to imply there was intent to embezzle.

False accusations are common in embezzlement charges. Defendants charged with such allegations are mostly victims of revenge from the accuser’s side (in a fiduciary relationship) or a fail in a business deal between the defendant and the victim. For this reason, the defense attorney will thoroughly investigate the matter, prove that the defendant is falsely accused, and seek lighter charges or dismissal of the case.

Find A Vista Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

Are you charged with embezzlement or any other property crime? Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm is ready to help you. We offer criminal defense services across Vista, CA and the whole of North County. Call us today at 760-691-1551 and let us begin the journey of crafting a nice defense strategy for your case.