Theft and White-Collar Crime

Prosecutions for theft, or larceny as it is legally described, concern the wrongful taking of “property,” which could be cash, physical items, intellectual or real property, or even labor or professional services. See P.L. §155.00(1). Criminal acts of larceny could easily involve stealing property that belongs to someone else, but it also might cover the finding of lost property which an individual knows belongs to someone else, without taking any step to find the rightful owner. It could even involve a “false promise” made by a defendant to perform certain actions, such as taking a fee for services and then never providing the promised services.

Generally, the New York State Penal Law organizes Larceny crime by order of value of the stolen property. Under $1,000 in value, the offense is a Class A misdemeanor. Larceny felonies quickly escalate the value of the property with the degree of the crime, i.e., Fourth Degree, E felony ($1,000 or more), Third Degree, D felony ($3,000 or more), Second Degree, C felony ($50,000 or more), and finally, First Degree ($1 million or more!).

If prosecutors allege a larger scheme involving financial crime, more complicated charges often follow.

Scheme to Defraud, P.L. §190.65-190.65 involves “a systematic ongoing court of conduct” to defraud one or more persons by false promises or fraudulent representations. This is often applied to White Collar crimes involving businesses, loans, investments, or go-between brokers of goods or commodities. It could also be applied to Insurance Fraud or Health Care fraud. Such schemes which defraud 10 or more victims, or which involve property of more than $1,000 can be charged as an E felony.

Many White-Collar Crime investigations result from regulators’ review of documents filed with the State or with certain business entities. Sometimes a complaint from someone claiming to be defrauded leads law enforcement to investigate a business’ financial filings. If these documents contained false information, the offenses of Falsifying Business Records, P.L. §175.05-175.15, or Offering a False Instrument for Filing, P.L. 175.30-175.35 may be considered. Creating “false entries” in the business records of any business or charity, or omitting certain information from those records, could lead to felony charges if the intent is to “conceal another crime.” See P.L. §175.10. Many of the requirements for businesses to file documents, attestations, or other certifications with agencies like the Department of State, Department of Taxation and Finance, and the Securities and Exchange Commission are there to allow law enforcement to compare their investigation findings with publicly filed documents. Discrepancies often lead to prosecutions for Offering a False Instrument for Filing with a public office or public servant. When these filings “defraud the state” or any city or town, it could lead to felony charges.

The crime of Forgery, P.L. §170.00-170.75, is charged in these sorts of cases when “written instruments” – usually including an endorsement, attestation, or a signature – are falsely presented as being authentic. Felony charges can result from forgery involving wills, credit cards, public records, prescriptions from doctors. The most serious C felony charge concerns forgery of U.S. currency, stocks, or bonds.

The crime of Money Laundering, P.L. §470.00-470.25, is charged in cases where the defendant has knowledge that the proceeds of criminal conduct (such as larceny, fraud, or drug sales, for example) are involved in a subsequent financial transaction. This crime applies to those transactions in which a defendant is promoting that criminal scheme, acting to conceal the source of those funds, or avoiding reporting requirements. Money Laundering offenses are generally organized with certain exceptions by the value of the criminal proceed-involved transaction, from $5,000 (Fourth Degree, E felony) all the way to $1 million or more (First Degree, B felony).

Perhaps the most flexible tool in a prosecutor’s toolkit is the crime of Conspiracy, P.L. §105.00-105.17. Complex charges involving multiple people accused of crimes will often include conspiracy charges, which can be difficult to explain to clients and to juries. The crime really involves two allegations: (1) that there was a planned crime, also called the object crime; and (2) that the accused agreed with one or more people to cause the performance of that crime.

An agreement must be proven by what the courts call “overt acts” that are taken by the participants in a conspiracy to “further” the conspiracy. For example, driving someone to the location where they plan to commit a crime. Of course, that isn’t enough to prove the driver’s participation. Prosecutors are required to prove that the driver desired the planned crime to occur. 

If a person joins a criminal conspiracy, he might be liable for any of the actions of its other members. The overt act doesn’t need to be criminal itself, and a conspirator needs only to take one step towards furthering the conspiracy. Conspiracy itself is a crime, with different levels of severity based on the seriousness (the “Degree” of felony, generally) of the object crime.

Conspiracies are often proven with circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidence is simply evidence which requires an inference of the existence of other facts. The job of your attorney is to convince a judge or jury that the inferences prosecutors draw from their evidence are unreasonable or not to be believed. But given the law of conspiracy, this can be difficult indeed. 

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