Theft And Fraud Offenses

Understanding the Seriousness of Theft and Fraud Offenses

Even though theft and fraud are nonviolent crimes, they usually get prosecuted as low-level felonies. That means a conviction on even a single count of this type of larceny can result in a yearlong prison term. If you have been charged in Ohio or a federal court with theft or fraud, you should contact an attorney.

Does theft differ from burglary and robbery?

Yes. The difference comes down to how something was allegedly taken.

  • Theft involves illegally obtaining money, goods, government benefits, or services without using violence or trespassing. To win a conviction for theft, the prosecutor must show that the defendant intended to keep whatever they allegedly took and that the defendant intended to commit a crime.
  • Burglary involves entering an occupied building or vehicle to steal things. Proving this charge requires showing intent and trespassing (i.e., entering without permission).
  • Robbery involves taking a person's property from them while assaulting them or directly threatening them with physical harm.

Ohio state law also recognizes aggravated theft, aggravated burglary, and aggravated robbery as crimes.

  • Aggravated theft involves taking things worth $150,000 or more.
  • Aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery involves carrying a deadly weapon while committing a larceny. A burglary or robbery also becomes aggravated if the suspect makes threats against a person or injures a person while stealing.

Are there other types charges related to theft?

Two of the most common nonviolent larceny charges are breaking and entering and receiving stolen property.

A charge for breaking and entering indicates that authorities think the suspect entered an unoccupied home, vehicle, or business while no else was present with the intent of taking goods and/or money. Nothing has to get broken to substantiate this charge; only trespassing needs to occur.

Receiving stolen property involves taking possession of items someone else obtained by theft. This charge indicates that authorities believe the suspect knew, or had strong reason to understand, that the objects were stolen.

How do fraud and forgery relate to the crime of theft?

Engaging in fraud and forgery are ways to commit theft. Under Ohio law, to defraud "means to knowingly obtain, by deception, some benefit for oneself or another, or to knowingly cause, by deception, some detriment to another." In other words, engaging in fraud means lying and misrepresenting key information while understanding that you are doing so.

Forgery can range from signing someone else's name and writing bad checks to creating fake documents. Both fraud and forgery can be prosecuted as crimes separate from theft.

What actions besides fraud can lead to a theft charge?

In a business context, taking something outside the scope of one's duties and the other party's consent is legally considered an act of nonviolent larceny. This works both ways. For instance, an employer who withholds pay workers have legitimately earned can be prosecuted for theft. Conversely, an employee who pockets cash instead of putting it in the register can face theft charges.

Using intimidation and making general threats that convince people to unwillingly surrender property or render services can also count as theft. Drawing the distinction between a general threat that merits a theft charge and a specific threat that constitutes robbery is often difficult. Speaking with a Columbus theft crime lawyer would be a good idea for anyone arrested for robbery.

Do federal laws use different definitions of theft and fraud?

The relevant federal statutes primarily differ from Ohio laws by providing more detail on what constitutes both theft and fraud. For instance, a law against stealing U.S. government documents lists embezzlement, purloining (i.e., removing), and knowingly converting to one's own use without consent as criminal actions. Embezzlement, of course, involves transferring money from business accounts to one's own pocket or bank. "Converting" in this sense means falsely asserting ownership.

What do Ohio and federal laws prohibit as acts of theft and fraud?

Here are a few examples:

  • Unauthorized use of a vehicle
  • Unauthorized use of telecommunications and computers (e.g., cable TV theft)
  • Movie piracy
  • Passing bad checks
  • Misusing credit cards
  • Forgery
  • Counterfeiting
  • Falsely claiming Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and workers' compensation benefits
  • Falsely attesting to another's identity or ownership while knowing the truth
  • Altering official records for your benefit or the benefit or others
  • Taking bribes and kickbacks
  • Sending spam and phishing emails
  • Using false identification to obtain property, services, or benefits
  • Pretending to be a police officer or public official, which is called "personating" in legalese
  • Rigging contracts

What penalties could I face for theft and fraud?

The decision to treat an act of theft or fraud as a misdemeanor or felony usually comes down to the value of the item(s) taken. Generally, any illegal gain that exceeds $1,000 is considered a felony, which can mean thousands in criminal fines and years in prison. Individuals convicted of theft and fraud also often receive court orders to make financial restitution.

Are there effective defenses against charges of theft and fraud?

Once you have been arrested, you may occasionally be able to get out of trouble by offering to pay for or return whatever was allegedly stolen. If that is not an option, strong defenses against theft can include proving that you had an owner's permission to take or use the item(s) in dispute and that you did make a payment that the owner failed to record the transaction.

Demonstrating misunderstandings and miscommunications can also excuse you from fraud charges. If you can prove you did not know that information you provided or endorsed was false, you did not commit fraud.

Last, and as noted above, the intent to take something illegally and keep it counts just as much as taking that thing without clear title or right. Arguments over intent to steal or defraud often boil down to he-said-she-said debates. Securing advice and representation from an experienced Columbus theft and fraud attorney can help you present your version of event with strong evidence.

Contact a Columbus Criminal Defense Attorney

Reach out to Campbell Law if you need a Columbus theft crime lawyer. We charge nothing to talk, and our founder, April Campbell, knows the law and the court system. She may be able to help you show that what some considered a crime was simply a mistake.