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How to handle an Embezzlement Charge in Michigan - what your lawyer can do to help you win your case

As a former prosecutor in New York City and Michigan, I worked on many embezzlement cases. In Michigan, embezzlement is defined as someone in control of the money or property of another person or of a business, and are accused of converting the money for your own use or fraudulently disposing of the money.

This is different than larceny, retail fraud, home invasion and other theft crimes because embezzlement means you're legally possessing or controlling the money at the time, but you commit a crime when you convert the money to your own benefit. Retail fraud is shopping at Kohl's and taking a shirt without paying for it; embezzlement is working at Kohl's and creating gift cards for yourself or stealing money from the register.

In Michigan, embezzlement can either me a misdemeanor or a felony - the differing factor is the amount of value converted for your own good. Here are the penalties

​Embezzlement of money or property valued at less that $200 (misdemeanor): Jail time of up to 93 days and a fine of either $500 or 3 times the value of the money or property, whichever is greater.

Embezzlement of money or property valued at between $200 and $1,000, or less than $200 with a previous embezzlement conviction, or under $200 embezzled from a nonprofit or charitable organization (misdemeanor): Jail time of up to 1 year and a fine of either $1,000, or 3 times the value of the money or property, whichever is greater.

Embezzlement of money or property valued at between $1,000 and $20,000, or between $200 and $1,000 along with a previous conviction, or between $200 and $1,000 embezzled from a nonprofit or charitable organization (felony): Jail time of up to 5 years and a fine of up to $10,000, or 3 times the value of the money or property, whichever is greater.

Embezzlement of money or property valued at between $20,000 and $50,000, or between $1,000 and $20,000 along with a previous conviction, or between $1,000 and $20,000 embezzled from a nonprofit or charitable organization (felony): Jail time of up to 10 years and a fine of $15,000 or 3 times the value of the money or property, whichever is greater.

Embezzlement of money or property valued at between $50,000 and $100,000 (felony): Jail time of up to 15 years and a fine of $25,000 or 3 times the value of the money or property, whichever is greater.

Embezzlement of money or property valued at more than $100,000 (felony): Jail time of up to 20 years and a fine of up to $50,000 or 3 times the value of the money or property, whichever is greater.

As a prosecutor my number one concern was always my "victim" and making my victim whole again. If the person charge stole $1500 worth of value from the victim, my top goal was to get that victim back the $1500. From there I would focus on the punishment of the defendant, but not without considering my victim first.

​If the person charge lacked a criminal record, there may be room for negotiations in order to recoup the money from the defendant. I was more likely to gain a return of that money if I was willing to deal down from a felony to a misdemeanor or potentially deal to a dismissal altogether. Prosecutors see black and white when it comes to charges - they don't really consider what each type of charge means in the real world. An embezzlement conviction on someone's record is about the worse thing for ever getting a job or passing a background check.

I use my experience as a former prosecutor and get inside the mind of the other side. I realize that the prosecutor is likely most concerned about the financial return to their victim. If after reviewing all of the evidence it appears the prosecutor has a strong case, we may shift positions and focus on a number of goals such as avoiding jail, a felony, and maybe a criminal record altogether.

I don't just rely on my client writing a check to the victim to get the deal done, because this will only get us part of the way toward our goals. We need to acknowledge the perception of our audience and realize that my client was in a position of trust and ripped off someone who trusted them - either an individual person or a company. Is the prosecutor really going to give them a slap on the wrist and push them out of the courthouse door without any record of this happening for others to be fooled in the future? Probably not.

It's very important to get to the bottom of the issue with the client and try to figure out how they went from being a trusted person to throwing that trust out the window and defrauding someone else. What's going on in my client's mental, emotional and physical state? Is there something new that triggered this poor choice?

It could be family issues, alcohol/drugs, stress, work related, financial; whatever it is, we are going to identify it and put my client in a position to work on the issue and hopefully fix it. We can't ask for the best outcome without solving the problem on our own. If we can present why this happened, and a solution, a prosecutor and judge don't need to worry about pushing my client out the door as a serious threat to society. There is an opportunity for a true second chance, but it needs to make sense to the prosecutor and judge, and the way to do that is with actions, not mere words.

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