Houman Fakhimi

Eight Years in California Prison for Theft from Employer

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge handed down an eight-year sentence to a former school official convicted of stealing more than $700,000 in taxpayer money.

Westminster Criminal Defense Lawyer Houman Fakhimi knows this is one of the longest sentences ever handed down for theft of public money. In addition to the prison time, the former official was ordered to pay back all of the money, plus another $122,000 to the local tax board.

Such a stiff penalty was no doubt intended to send a message, and it underscores why anyone facing a theft charge must take it seriously - regardless of whether leniency tends to be the norm in similar cases.

The defendant, from Santa Ana, reportedly pleaded guilty to one felony count each of filing a false tax return and misappropriation of public funds. Essentially, this is embezzlement, as defined under California Penal Code 503. It's a white collar crime, and a conviction requires that prosecutors prove that the money or property or services you took unlawfully had been entrusted to you.

Most often, this is a crime that is going to be charged following a theft from an employer. It's typically punished as grand theft (which can be either a misdemeanor or felony) when the value of whatever was taken is above $950. Typically, you would be looking at a maximum two to three years in prison. However, as this case shows, enhancements can be applied if you stole more than $65,000 (up to four years higher if the property is worth over $3.2 million). You may also receive more time depending on your position of trust and whether you stole from someone who was dependent upon you.

In this case, the defendant was initially charged with 21 felony counts of embezzlement, filing false tax returns and misappropriation of public money. All together, the defendant could have faced 19 years in prison if convicted of everything.

He chose instead to have his attorneys negotiate a plea deal for less prison time.

Authorities say the theft took place over the course of four years, when the defendant reportedly set up a school district bank account, to which only he had direct access. Initially, this account was established under the premise of funding student trips to the school district's sister city in Mexico. He reportedly regularly deposited money in this account, which he then used to pay personal taxes, gasoline, tickets to sporting events, hot tub repairs and hotel rooms.

The discrepancy was reportedly discovered when a new fiscal officer arrived on the job.

In addition to fighting the charges outright, one of the ways that our criminal defense lawyers work to reduce the kind of time our clients are facing is to introduce mitigating circumstances. These are elements that don't constitute a legal defense, but may work in your favor when it comes time for sentencing (if you are convicted at trial or work out a plea deal). An example of mitigating circumstances might be that you reimbursed the company or person for everything you previously took before you were ordered to do so.

In some cases, if you approach us either prior to or shortly after an arrest, we may even be able to work out a civil compromise with the entity that is accusing you. So for example, we help you work out a repayment plan, and in exchange, they agree to drop any criminal charges.