4 Things to Know When Charged With Embezzlement in Oklahoma

4 Things to Know When Charged With Embezzlement in Oklahoma

Employee theft is shockingly common, especially for small businesses. It includes everything from theft of time, like conducting personal business during work hours, to stealing goods or taking money right out of the register. It also includes another type of crime: embezzlement.

You don’t have to look far to find examples of embezzlement charges in Oklahoma. A Bixby woman pleaded guilty in March of 2023 to embezzling $2.2 million from her employer, while an Oklahoma City office manager pleaded guilty in May to embezzling more than $1.4 million, also from an employer. But not all cases are in the millions – embezzlement can be less than $500, and it doesn’t have to involve an employer. Let’s dive into the details.

What Is Embezzlement?

Embezzlement means using money or property that doesn’t belong to you for something other than its intended purpose. Typically, embezzlement charges are brought when an individual uses money or property that belongs to an organization, like an employer or a nonprofit, for personal use. It can also involve using power of attorney, which is legal authority over someone’s finances, for personal gain.

Embezzlement charges in Oklahoma are defined under Title 21, Section 1451: “Embezzlement is 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, or the secretion of the property with the fraudulent intent to appropriate it to such use or purpose,” including:

  • Property that was entrusted to that person for a specific purpose, for example, in a trust
  • Property obtained through power of attorney
  • Property that’s supposed to be used for a public purpose
  • Property appropriated by law for a certain purpose that is diverted from that purpose
  • Money someone uses for personal gain instead of paying taxes

Essentially, if someone entrusts you with money or property for a specific purpose, and you use it for personal gain instead, that’s embezzlement.

Examples of Embezzlement

To better understand what might get you in trouble for embezzlement in Oklahoma, let’s look at a few common examples:

  • Transferring an organization’s money into your personal bank account
  • Cashing business checks and spending the money on personal purchases
  • Inflating payroll checks to pay yourself, friends, or family for hours you didn’t work
  • Using a company credit card for personal use
  • Submitting an expense report and getting reimbursed for money you never spent
  • Getting reimbursed for mileage that doesn’t qualify
  • Uttering a forged instrument, like a check
  • Using power of attorney to spend money from someone else’s account on personal purchases

4 Things to Know About Embezzlement Charges in Oklahoma

Embezzlement is a “white-collar crime,” a category that refers to nonviolent, financially motivated crimes. However, prosecutors take these crimes seriously, especially if there’s a lot of money involved. Here are four things you need to know if you’ve been charged with embezzlement.

1. Embezzlement Crimes Vary Widely

Under the law, embezzlement can range from submitting an expense report for a $200 meal you never had, to wiring hundreds of thousands of dollars to a personal bank account. Because embezzlement charges in Oklahoma vary so much, the punishments are set by the value of the property.

If the embezzled property or money is worth less than $500, it’s a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to 1 year in prison. (For any amount, you’ll also have to pay back the money you embezzled.) All other embezzlement is a felony, and the punishments are as follows:

  • $500 to less than $1,000: $5,000 fine and up to 1 year in prison
  • $1,000 to less than $25,000: $5,000 fine and up to 5 years in prison
  • $25,000 or more: $10,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison

These punishments only apply to private individuals. Embezzlement of public funds, for example by an employee of the State of Oklahoma, has a set punishment regardless of the amount that was taken: up to 10 years in jail and a fine equal to triple the value of the embezzled property.

2. Embezzlement Charges Can Be Combined

Embezzlement often happens over a period of years, and even decades. That’s why the law allows embezzlement charges in Oklahoma to be combined.

Oklahoma law states that “a series of [embezzlement] offenses may be aggregated into one offense when they are the result of the formulation of a plan or scheme or the setting up of a mechanism which, when put into operation, results in the taking or diversion of money or property on a recurring basis. When all acts result from a continuing course of conduct, they may be aggregated into one crime.”

This means that if the individual intended to commit a continuing crime, each instance of embezzlement can be rolled up into one total amount. And that means you might be more likely to be charged with a higher total amount.

3. You Won’t Always Go to Prison

Embezzlement charges in Oklahoma are serious. However, it is a nonviolent crime, and the person involved often has no criminal record. That means prosecutors may focus on ensuring the victim will be paid back, also known as restitution, rather than sending nonviolent criminals to prison. While it depends on the facts of the case and the amount of money embezzled, these types of cases often end in plea deals.

One common outcome in embezzlement cases is a deferred sentence. This means the judge will withhold a finding of guilt, and place you on probation instead of sentencing you to prison. If you successfully complete probation, your case will be dismissed and automatically sealed. Deferred sentences are only available for first offenses.

4. You Need a Lawyer

Embezzlement may be a white-collar crime, but having it on your criminal record can seriously affect your ability to find employment and housing. You need an experienced criminal defense attorney who can advise you on what to say, build you a strong defense, negotiate for the best plea deal, or take your case to trial. Just a few of the circumstances that factor into the punishment you may receive for embezzlement include if:

  • You didn’t realize you were doing anything illegal.
  • You didn’t understand how you were allowed – and not allowed – to use the money or property.
  • You were holding the money or property temporarily.
  • The money or property was given to you legally.
  • You were falsely accused.

The Bottom Line

If you’re facing embezzlement charges in Oklahoma, don’t give up. You may have more options available to you than you think. It’s important to retain a qualified attorney, like those at the Khalaf Law Firm, to guide you through the process. We’ll provide a free case evaluation, then help you get the best possible outcome. Contact us today to get started, so you can close the book on this chapter of your life.