Rachel reaches out to me over the weekend about an incident at her former employer. She tells me that she was recently fired and accused of stealing funds from the company. She is unsure of what she may be charged with, but is open and honest about what happened, and deeply regrets her choices.
She tells me that she is 40 years old and worked as a bookkeeper for this company for the past 10 years; she is married with three children and fearful of what is next in the process. I confirm that Rachel has no prior criminal history. I tell Rachel that the offense sounds like Embezzlement, which could be a misdemeanor or felony depending on the value. Anything over $1,000 would be a felony case.
Although Rachel is not yet charged, there is an active investigation and information gathering ongoing by the police department and prosecutor. They are working together with Rachel’s former employer on building their case against her. This can be a scary for Rachel with the feeling that the walls are closing in on her from all sides.
I assure her that the police and prosecutor are simply gathering what they can find and will provide Rachel with the same information.
Rachel is most upset because she still cares for and admires all the people who work at her former company, especially the owner. She is beating herself up about how she could portray their trust after so many great years together.
Rachel’s first instinct was to reach out to the owner and apologize after she found out she was fired for stealing, but she wanted to talk to an attorney prior to doing so. I praise her for being smart about her choices and advise her that it is not in her best interest to contact her former employer.
Reaching out and saying anything could hurt her case and could be construed as witnessing tampering if she says the wrong thing. I assure Rachel that there may be a time and place to make amends for her actions with the employer; she is grateful for this advice and vouches to not contact anyone related to the case.
I walk Rachel through the process of the police and prosecutor working on her case. I assure her that as a former prosecutor, I once sat in that same position, reviewing cases, facts and drafting criminal charges against people. There is nothing personal involved, it’s merely a job that needs to get done if there is enough evidence to charge her.
As we discuss what happened, Rachel tells me that as the bookkeeper she was in charge of money coming in and money coming out. She admits that she started using the company credit card for personal items and had them shipped to her home for the last 18 months.
She explains that her husband became ill, could no longer work, but the bills and expenses only went up for three children. She found herself online shopping with small orders then it grew to groceries and more expensive items for gifts for family and friends. She got greedy and figured she had already done something wrong, and it made sense to keep doing it because she was not caught yet. She admits that in a weird way she was happy that someone caught her, because she could not sleep at night, and kept making it worse.
She didn’t have an exact number, but she estimates at least $10,000 in personal expenses on the company card. She would simply pay the bill out of the business bank account, and nobody checked her work. It turns out that she got sloppy with shopping and a large order showed up at the office when she was on vacation with her family. The owner was alerted and after some digging, they discovered her paper trail over many months of spending. The business owner had no choice but to terminate her, which she completely understood.
Rachel is in the unique position that she admits and understand she is 100 percent guilty of breaking the law. She has regret, shame and an angst to make this right for the people she harmed. She is tempted to throw her hands up, beg for forgiveness, and apologize for being a terrible person.
I explain to Rachel that her feeling this way is very normal, and there is a path to making things right, apologizing and possibly rebuilding her past relationships later down the road.
It’s important for Rachel to know that right now she is simply a name and a charge on a case file. A prosecutor has no context for what happened; in their mind, she is a cold-hearted criminal ripping off and stealing from others. They are not aware of her underlying issues with family and financial hardship; this is not a defense or an excuse, but it is part of the reason. They may not know she worked there for ten years, and was an outstanding person and friend to the owner prior to lapsing into this dark place in the last 18 months.
When I work with a client like Rachel, it’s very clear that she is not a bad person, she is not someone who would ever go out and hurt someone. She let her current financial situation and the stress of her family well-being interfere with her better judgment; she became selfish and wanted a quick fix. She believed that her company made plenty of money, and “nobody would get hurt”.
Reflecting back, she realizes that she should have talked to her boss about a potential raise or an advance in pay; by taking matters into her own hands, she has put herself and her family in an even worse spot. Rachel knows that she can’t go back in time and undo what she created, but after discussing things in length, she is ready to take control of her case, and change the perception of the situation.
This theft is the first impression for the prosecutor and judge; it is now our turn to create what I like to call a “true impression”. A true reflection of who Rachel has been prior to this event, what she is doing in the present to learn, reflect and grow, and what her future goals are moving forward.
Rachel agrees that taking control of her situation will both benefit the outcome of the case and bring her tremendous peace of mind and confidence daily. Dealing with this case daily is taxing, demanding and feels like an endless pit of torture. Charged with a felony is bad enough on its own, but to have hurt and wronged someone you cared about in the process. It’s not a good look to make yourself “the victim” in all this, but for someone like Rachel life got out of control and it caused her to act in a manner which is not part of her soul and character.
Rachel agrees to begin my proactive program and tracking plan. We make it a goal to get in contact with the OIC (Officer in Charge) and get information about the investigation. We want to see where things are with potential charges, and hopefully be an active participant in the process. We may or may not add our own statements or information, but we certainly want to be on top of it, and make it clear right away that we indeed to comply with any warrants or charges.
Rachel has a family to think about, and she would live in fear each day that the police would come to her home and arrest her in front of her kids and her sick husband. By working with the police, we would be able to arrange to walk into court and see the judge; there is no need to come find Rachel and arrest her.
We want to begin the case on a good note and earn favorable bond conditions. We don’t want to be locked away during the case, posting $10,000’s for a bond, or wearing a tracking device. By voluntarily complying and making things smooth for the police, prosecutor and court we stand a much better chance of earning these favorable conditions and sleeping better at night knowing we have some control over the next steps.
In past cases, on an extremely limited basis, we were able to come to an out of court agreement with the police and victim for embezzlement cases. The most likely result are felony charges for Rachel, but with the right officer, prosecutor and business owner, there is a small chance reimbursement can happen without even being charged. We want to at least have this conversation to see what is possible.
Along with tracking the case and actively participating in the dialogue, we want to get proactive. We want Rachel to use this downtime to work on her mental and emotional health; working with a counselor would be the first step. We need to focus in on the underlying issues and begin making progress on coping skills and problem solving methods outside of hurting yourself; exploring that feeling that she is glad she was caught, because she could not stop.
The last impression we want to give a judge and prosecutor is the client is a wild-card; someone who broke the law, but does not understand why or how they ended up there. Without that knowledge and understanding, the client is bound to repeat the same behavior.
If we can provide context, understanding and a thoughtful plan moving forward, we can provide some confidence in a judge and prosecutor that we understand the WHY, and we are working on avoiding returning to that dark place, and if we do return, we know how to handle it in a way that does not end up breaking the law.
Along with counseling, we also want to engage in positive outcomes in our community. While we cannot yet make amends to the business owner, we can make a positive influence on the same County or City impacted by our offense. Rachel will be spending a few hours each week giving back to the community; she is already busy, stressed and overburdened by life, but she is putting that to the side for a few hours and thinking outside of her bubble.
Focusing on her needs, problems and stressful life brought her to this case; by going out into the community and helping others even less fortunate than her, it will assist her in coping with her situation, and hopefully appreciating what she does have, versus what she does not.
For Rachel to come to court with 50 hours logged despite her limited time and energy, it really sends a strong message to the judge and prosecutor.
Ultimately our goal will focus on an opportunity to keep a felony off Rachel’s record. If we are able to get the prosecutor, judge and victim onboard with an outcome of redemption, repayment of money stolen and a chance to avoid a felony record and jail, we will have to strongly consider peace of mind and reaching those goals.