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It is common for a person working as a public official to handle or oversee large amounts of public funds. These individuals are in positions that require the trust of the public. They perform their duties with very limited oversight. It is possible for such individuals to intentionally or unintentionally abuse this trust. They could use public funds to unlawfully enrich themselves. There have been a number of high-profile cases in California involving powerful public officials who have been found guilty of misappropriating public funds. This has resulted in law enforcement, prosecutors, as well as government watchdog organizations, being very vigilant when it comes to detecting these types of crimes.
These are considered funds utilized in all political divisions of a government entity. The funds are obtained from taxes that are levied for public purposes. It is revenue or money used by a government entity or a municipal corporation. It can also involve any type of stocks, bonds or securities purchased with tax revenue by a government entity. Public funds can also be considered government spending and obtaining goods and services for the mutual needs of citizens in a community.
The California statute that covers misappropriation of public funds is found in California Penal Code Section 424 PC. Violation of this code occurs when a defendant holds an officer position within a government district, town, city, county or state. Their position’s responsibilities include the disbursement, receipt, transfer or safekeeping of public funds. Misappropriation of public funds occurs when a defendant has appropriated public funds or even a portion of them for their own use. The defendant loaned public funds or a portion of them. The defendant utilized public funds in ways not permitted by law. The defendant knowingly maintained a false account of public funds. They may have made untrue entries or deletions in regards to an account containing public funds. The defendant refused to use public funds be used for payment of legal drafts orders or warrants lawfully drawn upon by an authorized authority. The defendant refused to transfer public funds when required by law. The defendant refused to pay government officers or entities lawfully entitled to such public funds.
A person accused of misappropriation of public funds could be charged with either a felony or misdemeanor. What determines the type of charge is often be the amount of funds that were misappropriated. A person convicted of misappropriation of public funds could face felony probation. They could also be sentenced to spend up to four years in a California state prison. A fine of up to $10,000 could be given. When a public official is found guilty of any type of theft, such as misappropriation of public funds, they may have to pay restitution. This is designed, so a guilty person pays back the money they misappropriated. This is separate from any fines they would be required to pay. Once a person is convicted of this offense, they are no longer permitted to hold any type of California public office.
Legal Defense Against Charges
The career and life of any public official can sustain serious damage as a result of being charged with misappropriation of public funds. A common legal defense is the public official did not know or was simply unintentionally negligent when it came to handling public funds. It is possible with changes in rules associated with handling public funds for a person to be confused on proper procedure. It would not be criminal negligence if a person didn’t make an effort to discover if what they were doing was illegal or if they believed what they were doing was legal.
When a public official is accused of misappropriation of public funds, it is a delicate situation. With the right legal assistance, it is also something that can be successfully handled and any damage mitigated.