Crime rates as a whole generally increase in tough economic times. Financial crimes, especially embezzlement, tend to have sharp increases.
Mississippi has experienced an increase in embezzlement cases. Laurel Leader Call reporter Eloria Newell James writes:
LAUREL — From taking merchandise for personal use to removing cash from a business’ cash register, law enforcement officials say embezzlement is on the rise.
The Laurel Police Department’s Investigative Division has reported an increase in embezzlement cases in recent weeks.
The department has reported several recent cases involving the theft of businesses’ money.
Sgt. Michael Reaves with the Laurel Police said while law enforcement officials have seen “a decrease in a lot of crimes in our areas” the number of cases involving money has increased.
“In the last six months, we’ve seen a lot of our financial crimes spike,” Reaves said. “Economic crimes, crimes dealing with money, have increased.”
In May, a Laurel woman was arrested and charged in an ongoing embezzlement case in Ellisville. Kathy Hilbun, 48, who once worked at the BP Convenience Store in Ellisville, was arrested and charged with one count of felony embezzlement after store officials reported on May 25 possible embezzlement.
Then in July, Sara Rose Dearman, 20, of Laurel was arrested in connection with embezzling money from the eatery where she worked.
Stephanie Thornton, 40, of Laurel, former business manager of the Laurel Leader-Call, was arrested Sept. 17 and charged with embezzling from the newspaper.
In late September, Quonesha Walters, 18, of Laurel, a former employee of Murphy Oil on 16th Avenue, was arrested by police and charged with two counts of embezzlement.
“We’ve seen several economic crimes lately,” Reaves said. “They have ranged from embezzlement, credit card fraud, identity theft and a little increase in counterfeit checks.”
“Some of the suspects (in the recent cases) have not been your typical suspects,” Reaves acknowledged. “Most of them have been women – blue collar workers, middle class people. They have been normal working people that seem to have allowed circumstances to put added stress on them and result in them doing something that they would not normally do.
“These are people with jobs and families,” Reaves added. “We’ve seen stolen (credit card) numbers, others they have obtained (credit) cards in other people’s names…. These are people who are getting money and/or goods by illegal gain.”
“We realize the economy is tough, but people should realize that embezzlement is a serious crime,” the police sergeant said.
While there are several types of embezzlement, this crime usually involves employees stealing money or goods from their employers. Under Mississippi law,
If any person shall embezzle…or convert to his own use…any…property of any kind…which shall have…been entrusted to his care or possession by virtue of his…employment…with a value of [$500.00] or more, he shall be guilty of felony embezzlement, and, upon conviction…shall be imprisoned…not more than ten (10) years, or fined not more than [$25,000.00], or both.
If the value of such…property…is less than [$500.00], he shall be guilty of misdemeanor embezzlement, and, upon conviction…shall be imprisoned…not more than six (6) months, or fined not more than [$1,000.00], or both.
See Mississippi Code Annotated Section 97-23-19.
I handle cases involving white-collar and financial crimes, including embezzlement. Even though embezzlement of a rather small amount of cash or property carries stiff penalties, there are defenses available to such a charge. A thorough defense investigation is almost always required to defend against an embezzlement charge. I’ve often said defense attorneys win (or lose) cases based upon how well they perform the defense investigation at the inception of the case. There is no better example of this principle than embezzlement cases.
If you have been charged with embezzlement, or think you might be under suspicion or investigation for a white-collar or other financial crime, please contact me immediately to protect your rights.
Mississippi Criminal Defense Attorney Curt Crowley