THEFT

“Don’t steal” is one of the first lessons we learn in life.  Almost all of us have had some experience with a theft offense during our lives.  Theft can be as simple as taking a bottle of soda from a grocery store.  Or, it can be as complex as a multi-million dollar securities fraud by a publically traded company.  Trombley & Hanes has represented clients accused of both of these offenses and just about everything in between.

Theft is not just stealing money.  Individuals can be prosecuted for stealing real estate, land rights, intellectual property, and even services.  Theft can be committed by physically taking something or by dishonestly convincing someone to part with their property.  Even writing a bad check can be a theft. The 13th Circuit State Attorney’s Office has a dedicated worthless check unit that provides assistance to victims of bad checks.

Because theft is such a common offense, it is prosecuted by local, state, and federal authorities.  Theft is a concurrent jurisdiction offense and prosecutive agreements between federal, state and local law enforcement authorities are typical.  Often, the value and the geographical reach of the theft determines where and by whom it is prosecuted.  Trombley& Hanes has litigated cases in state and federal courts around the country and is your best ally to handle your case wherever it arises.  The laws, penalties, and potential resolutions differ in each of these jurisdictions and having a lawyers familiar with various prosecuting authorities is important.   

A state has an interest is protecting its citizens from crimes committed within it territorial jurisdiction.  The State of Florida pursues a wide range of theft cases through the Office of the State Attorney, the Statewide Prosecutor, and the Office of the Attorney General.  The State is responsible for prosecuting everything from misdemeanor petit thefts to first degree felonies carrying the potential of a life sentence.

The United States government also investigates and prosecutes theft offenses.  While the federal government does not have jurisdiction over many theft offenses, its jurisdiction reaches offenses that are frequently considered to be state offenses.    

Title 18 U.S.C. § 2312 makes it an offense to transport in interstate or foreign commerce a motor vehicle or aircraft, knowing it to have been stolen. The receipt, possession, sale, or disposition of a motor vehicle or aircraft which crossed a state or United States boundary after being stolen, with knowledge of its stolen character is an offense punishable in 18 U.S.C. § 2313. Criminal offenses relating to altering, removing, or obliterating motor vehicle identification numbers, trafficking in motor vehicles or in motor vehicle parts having altered, removed, or obliterated identification numbers, operating a chop shop, and exporting or importing stolen motor vehicles are governed generally by the Dyer Act.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation has investigatory responsibility for auto theft and aircraft theft-related offenses, including violations of 18 U.S.C. §§ 511, 553, 2312, 2313, and 2321.

The National Stolen Property Act – 18 U.S.C. §  2311, 2314, and 2315 – punishes the receipt, possession, transportation, storage etc. of stolen goods, wares, merchandise, securities, or money having a value of $5,000 or more.  Whether a crime falling under this act is prosecuted federally under the first two paragraphs of 18 U.S.C. § 2314 and the first paragraph of 18 U.S.C. § 2315 is governed by the same factors that determine whether other non-governmental thefts or frauds (e.g., mail frauds or wire frauds) should be prosecuted federally.

Theft from interstate shipments is a concurrent jurisdiction offense and prosecutive agreements with State and local law enforcement authorities are typical. Major theft cases and cases involving repeat offenders are given priority attention under 18 U.S.C. § 659.

Subjects involved in the redistribution of stolen property particular are prosecuted under 18 U.S.C. §§ 659, 2312, 2313, 2314, 2315, 2321, and the RICO statute (18 U.S.C. § 1961 et seq.) where the fence operates through a legitimate business.  The federal government gives priority to the prosecution of fences as opposed to the prosecution of thieves.  “Fences” are defined as those who are alleged to have assisted in finding or dealing with more than one buyer for stolen property. Highest priority is given to the prosecution of fences who operate legitimate businesses and sell stolen property to the public.

Title 18, section 2113 of the United States Code is the Federal criminal bank robbery statute.  Because most banks are federally protected financial institutions, any crime against a bank falls within the jurisdiction of the federal government.  Also, the first paragraph of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a) makes criminal the obtaining or attempting to obtain bank property by extortion.  Bank robbery prosecutions can include transactions involving misrepresentations of identity. This type of problem will occur more frequently as a result of computer related crimes directed at banking institutions.  18 U.S.C. § 2113(b) is not limited to common law larceny; it also applies to cases of obtaining bank property by false pretenses so long as there is a taking and carrying away.

Theft of intellectual property is an increasing problem facing many companies.  Information is a valuable commodity and it is protected through criminal prosecution.  The Economic Espionage Act was passed in recognition of the increasing importance of the value of intellectual property in general, and trade secrets in particular to the economic well-being and security of the United States and to close a federal enforcement gap in this important area of law.  Violations of copyrights, trademarks, and patents can also result in criminal penalties.

Violations of securities laws usually fall within federal jurisdiction.  But, states also regulate securities and are responsible for enforcing those laws.  The major responsibility for dealing with counterfeit and forged state and corporate securities lies with state and local governments. In utilizing 18 U.S.C. § 513, the federal government usually only prosecutes large-scale organized interstate criminal securities offenses.

Representative Case

State of Florida v. Client – Circuit Court for 6th Judicial Circuit, Pinellas County – A Corporate Tobacco Manufacturer prompted an investigation by local law enforcement into allegations of theft by one of its employees.  The client was facing mandatory prison but Trombley & Hanes, P.A. was able to negotiate a reduced charge and avoided prison entirely.