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Church Bookkeeper Faces Grand Theft Charges

A Florida church’s bookkeeper is accused of stealing thousands of dollars from a charity that helps provide money for breast cancer screenings to women who cannot afford such screenings and who do not have insurance that would cover these screenings. According to police, the bookkeeper allegedly admitted to forging checks and moving over $100,000 in funds from the charity’s accounts to her own personal account.

Why One Charge of Grand Theft in This Case?

Most every person is familiar with the concept of theft: an act of theft occurs when someone takes property belonging to another without that person’s permission and with the intention of depriving that person from being able to use or benefit from that property. Individuals who steal from organizations or charities as this bookkeeper is alleged to have done rarely make one large “withdrawal” – instead, the typical modus operandi of these individuals is to take smaller amounts over a long period of time. The goal in doing this is to make the individual acts of theft so small so that those in charge of the organization or charity do not become suspicious when accounting reports do not precisely match up with financial records. A trustee or director would certainly be suspicious about a $100,000 discrepancy, but a $25 or $50 discrepancy can easily be dismissed as a simple accounting error. Assuming that this is what happened in this case (of course, she is still presumed innocent at this point), why wasn’t she charged with multiple counts of theft?

The answer is simple: aggregation. When multiple small thefts are part of a grander scheme or plan, the amount of each theft can be “aggregated” – or combined – and treated as one criminal act. So what might have been (for example) 50 individual acts of theft that would be misdemeanors if they were all treated individually become one act of grand theft.

Punishment for Grand Theft in Florida

Grand theft in Florida occurs when the property stolen is valued at $300 or more. The offense of grand theft is divided into three “degrees” based upon the value of the property stolen. Each degree results in the imposition of more serious sanctions. In this case, the woman would be alleged to have committed grand theft in the first degree because the property stolen was valued (in the aggregate) of $100,000 or greater. If she were convicted of this offense, she could face up to 30 years in prison and/or $10,000 in fines. She could also be ordered to make restitution to the charity for the total amount stolen (even if, as is true in most cases, she is never actually able to pay the full amount back).

Jeffrey S. Weiner is a South Florida criminal defense attorney representing clients who have been charged with theft and white-collar criminal offenses throughout the State of Florida. Contact his office today by calling (305) 670-9919 or contacting his office online to discuss your case during a free initial consultation.

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