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Austin White Collar Crime Attorney

White Collar Crime Charges In Travis County

We think about White Collar Crime as something that occurs on Wall Street and is far removed from our everyday life.  But crimes in a business setting happen everywhere, and most jurisdictions have law enforcement divisions that are dedicated to enforcing white collar crime. White collar crimes can be especially serious and often carry lengthy prison sentences and long-term repercussions depending on your case. Luckily, a skilled Austin white collar crime attorney will be able to help you navigate these charges and help you build the best defense tailored to your case.

Fraud Charges

In Texas, “fraud” is a catch-all term that covers many types of crimes where a person lies to achieve a goal.  Lying on its own is not a crime, so the State must show that it falls into one of the specifically listed crimes under the fraud statute.  Some common ones are listed below.

Insurance Fraud Charges (35.02)

Insurance fraud happens when someone creates a prepared statement that he or she knows contains false or misleading information and presents the statement to an insurer with the intent to defraud.  It’s easy to see where this applies.  If in the course of an insurance claim someone fabricates or exaggerates losses, this is insurance fraud.  Note that the statute does not require that the person who prepared the fraudulent statement be the same person who is receiving the benefit.  Anyone who prepares the statement and presents it to the insurance company can be charged.

The penalty for insurance fraud goes up as the value of the fraud increases.  

Forgery.   It ranges from a class C misdemeanor if the value is under $100, to a State Jail Felony when the value is over 2,500, all the way up to a first-degree felony when the value is over 300,000.  If there are multiple false claims, the values can be added together to increase the penalty, as long as they are pursuant to one scheme or a continuing course of conduct.

Additionally, the statute calls for mandatory restitution.  Restitution is money paid back to the victim – in this case, the insurance company.  The amount of the restitution will be reduced by the amount of the insurance proceeds – if any – that is found to be valid.

Credit Card Abuse (32.31)

Using a stolen credit card is a little different from other types of theft and has a separate charge in the Penal Code.  Regardless of the amount, it is a State Jail Felony.  The State must show that the cardholder did not authorize the use.  This can be an issue when a friend or family member authorizes use for the card, but the defendant holds onto it longer than he should have.  Sometimes it is a mere miscommunication.  Other times, it is a crime.  Sometimes there are shades of grey.  There are a number of technicalities with credit card abuse that don’t exist with other theft charges.  If you are facing a charge of credit card abuse, it is important to contact an experienced Austin white collar crime lawyer.

Misapplication of Fiduciary Funds

Certain actors, like financial institutions, trustees, guardians, and executors, must act as fiduciaries for their clients.  This means that they have certain duties to always act in their client’s best interest.  There is a long list of rules they must adhere to, and failure to do so is a crime.  Fiduciaries must meet certain statutory qualifications.  This ensures that there is usually some level of sophistication and that there are no conflicts of interest that will prevent the fiduciary from acting against the owner of the funds.

To misapply funds means to use them contrary to an agreement in which the fiduciary holds property, or contrary to one of the fiduciary laws that govern how the fiduciary can spend the funds.  This can be charged if a person spends the funds intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly, meaning that YOLO’ing the funds on Gamestop stock is potentially a crime if a person is acting as a fiduciary.  Usually, honest mistakes are not charged, but obviously self-serving actions tend to be frowned upon and can bring criminal charges. 

Money Laundering Charges

Money Laundering happens when a person maintains an interest in, conceals, possesses the proceeds of criminal activity, supervises or facilitates a transaction, finances the operation, or invests in the commission of criminal activity.  It is not necessary for the person to be aware of the exact type of criminal activity that is occurring.  Despite the seemingly broad language of the statute, Money Laundering is not charged very often.  This is either because it doesn’t happen as often as we believe, or because it is rarely detected by law enforcement.

Embezzlement Charges

In Texas, embezzlement is charged simply as theft or theft of service.  Simply put, embezzlement means holding on to property that you initially received rightly, but that you must now turn back to the owner.  This often occurs under a business agreement where money is collected by an agent and then turned over to the owner.  If the agent spends or holds on to the funds, this is embezzlement (or, in Texas, simply charged as theft.).

 

The most common way this happens in Texas is in the context of contract work.  Often General Contractors are turning over substantial funds to subcontractors for construction or other blue collar work.  Sometimes the subcontractors run off with the money, leaving the General Contractor holding the bag.  Both the subcontractor and general contractor can potentially be charged with theft here.  Ideally, the General Contractor is insured, but this isn’t always the case.

Theft of Service (31.04)

A common charge in Travis County is theft of service.  This occurs when someone takes advantage of service but does not pay afterward.  A common example is if you take a cab ride and don’t pay, or “dine and dash” at a restaurant without covering the bill.  Another common situation is when a person holds on to a rental car longer than the agreement without paying.  

In the context of white collar crime, theft of service can cover a failure to pay wages to an employee or contractor as agreed.  In a convoluted way, the Travis County DA has used this statute in the past to cover types of insurance fraud.  Theft of Service escalates with the value of the service in the same way that property theft would from Class C Misdemeanor all the way up to First Degree Felony.  

White Collar Criminal Defense

Prosecutors usually prove up white collar crime with paperwork.  Therefore, it is important to hire an Austin white collar crime attorney that will carefully review the paper trail to make sure that the prosecutor can meet all the elements of the crime.  A key issue is an intent.  Just because money was misplaced or mishandled, that does not mean that the behavior was illegal.  Honest mistakes happen and should not be charged as a crime.  

In addition to raising defenses, it is important to review the amount of funds that is alleged to be at issue.  Often, the prosecution will throw everything at the wall to see what sticks.  It is the job of the defense to parse out which funds – if any –were mishandled, and which funds were actually handled correctly.  In this way, it is sometimes possible to reduce the level of the charge, and therefore reduce the criminal penalties.

Contact An Austin White Collar Crime Attorney

When charged with a crime, even sophisticated defendants are well-served to hire a criminal defense lawyer to guide them through the justice system.  A careful review of the records through the lens of an experienced Austin white collar crime attorney can turn a case around completely.  If you have been charged with a white collar crime, call today for a free case evaluation.

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