Articles Posted in Theft

800px-Packaged_ElectronicsReceiving stolen property is one of the more elusive offenses on the Chicago statute books but it has been prosecuted vigorously on account of the fact that it is part of a network of criminality that must be broken from its source. The person that receives stolen property is not only benefitting from a crime but is also making it difficult for the law enforcement authorities to successfully recover the stolen property. Therefore, the criminal justice system has been harsh on defendants in these circumstances. Defense attorneys need to be wary of the prejudices that often plague these cases. The chain of custody before arriving at the final recipient can also cause unique challenges for the defense attorney.

Key Considerations as Part of the Defense Preparations

The strategy that is preferred is to focus on the other defendants so as to take the heat off the person who may not have done the robbery or theft but is indeed the final recipient of the goods or money. The problems start to mount when it is a joint enterprise or conspiracy. In such situations the defendant may have to fight off a presumption that he or she is the mastermind whereas the actual thieves are only footmen and women for the grand scheme. Needless to say defendants who the prosecution successfully labels as being criminal masterminds can expect unusually stiff penalties, even when the discretions of the sentencing guidelines are taken into consideration. Luckily for the vast majority of defense attorneys, the cases are usually on the low end. The person that engaged in the actual stealing action (particularly if it is upgraded to robbery) will bear the brunt of the court’s wrath.

DSC04156-BThe state and definition of counterfeiting laws will tell you a lot about the community in which they are designed and implemented. Illinois is no exception. The state has a set of complex and situational rules relating to counterfeiting and forgery; a true Pandora’s Box for a diligent attorney. For the most part, the law seems to target those who create forged money, but there are many other forms of falsification that are captured by the legislation. A person is guilty of a crime in Illinois when he or she creates or uses written documents that have been falsified or altered in significant ways. In this case the constituent ingredients of the crime can encompass both the making of forged/altered documents as well as possessing them with the intention of using them for illegal purposes.

A Counterfeiting Law for the New Age

As criminals in this area have become more sophisticated in their modus operandi, the law has been forced to play catch-up. For example it recognized the use of false documents for defrauding in which possession is disputed as well as the effects of subtle alteration using digital means (720 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/17-3). The classic case is that of a forged check that is successfully cashed by a third party because the signature on it appears to be authentic to the recipient bank regardless of whether or not the account holder actually gave permission for that cheque to be paid. The elderly and those with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to this type of fraud. As the case made it through the courts, it became a gradually-established norm that the instrument used to defraud must be credible to an ordinary reasonable person. Hence where the forgery is almost comical in its design and presentation, the user may be able to escape a criminal charge.

file000340814082Home invasions have been the fodder for criminal defense attorneys in Illinois for ages. Recently there has been a growing conversation around the response of the homeowner and whether he or she is legally protected. States like Florida have a stand-your-ground provision which has sometimes led to tragic consequences. To make matters worse, some of these incidents are alleged to involve an element of racial animus. One need only look back at the circus surrounding the George Zimmerman case to realize that self-defense is never as simple as it looks on paper when the laws are first drafted.

Burglaries are going to continue and defense lawyers are going to continue to use every trick in the book to get an acquittal or generous sentence for their clients. This article highlights some of the important considerations for the law as it stands but also the implications for defendants and homeowners.

A Law that is a Series of Compromises and Interests

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On Wednesday, October 21, 2015, a man robbed an Irving Park neighborhood bank located on the Northwest side. According to witnesses, the man walked into the Wintrust Bank branch at 4343 N. Elston Ave. between 4:00 and 4:30 in the afternoon, gave the teller a note demanding cash, and then ran away with an unspecified amount of money, according to Chicago Police and the FBI. The suspect has not been caught at this time, but if he is caught, he will face serious federal charges and a lengthy prison sentence.

Bank Robbery Charges

If you are charged with bank robbery, it is always a federal offense. To be convicted of bank robbery, the assistant U.S. Attorney must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person took or tried to take money or property from an institution that is federally insured. Even if you are arrested for allegedly stealing from an ATM, you will be charged with bank robbery.    

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Embezzlement is a so-called “white collar crime” in Illinois, meaning it is the type of crime normally committed in a professional environment or workplace. Embezzlement is a type of theft that occurs when somebody who was entrusted to manage or monitor the property or money of another person steals all or part of what they were entrusted with for personal gain.

This is different from theft because in an embezzlement situation the defendant had legal access to the money or property that they are accused of stealing.

When is Embezzlement Usually Charged?

Two Chicago residents were arrested recently for allegedly committing retail theft at two different stores at Lincolnwood Town Center. But the value of the stolen goods may leave you wondering why police and prosecutors even bothered pressing charges.

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Chicago Retail Theft

In the first incident, a man was charged with retail theft for allegedly hiding an $18 pair of socks and walking out of a Kohl’s department store without paying for them. In the second incident, which occurred on the same day but at Carson’s, a woman was arrested for allegedly concealing a pair of earrings worth $46 and walking out of the store with them.

You’re probably thinking: “Wait, the police were called for an $18 pair of socks? For a $46 pair of earrings? The amount of time and resources they spent taking statements, arresting and booking the suspect was probably five times the cost of the items these two people attempted to steal. Can they even get jail time for that?”

Despite the fact that yes, the expenditure in police, prosecutor and court time and resources to follow these two cases from arrest to jury trial far exceeds the value of the items stolen, both these defendants could be facing jail time if found guilty.

Retail theft in Illinois of any property valued at less than $150 is a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a year in jail. A charge of retail theft isn’t dependent upon the suspect actually getting away from the store with the item. Once he exits the store with the unpaid merchandise, the crime has been committed, even if store security was watching and waiting for him to step outside before detaining him.

But why bother pressing charges against a person for $18? Taken as a single event, it seems ridiculous. But from the store’s perspective, these small, single events add up and take a toll on their bottom line, so many take a hardline and press charges on all attempted thefts, no matter how small. Many department stores even have signs posted in dressing rooms and other prominent places stating their intent to prosecute all incidents of retail theft, no matter how minimal the value of the stolen item.

From the prosecution’s standpoint, small crimes can add up. While a person may steal only an $18 pair of socks one day, over the course of several years the theft of small items quickly adds up. But that doesn’t mean if you are arrested with retail theft you are guaranteed time spent in jail. Prosecutors are overworked, underpaid and want to close the big cases – murder, robbery, sexual assault and other violent crimes – not spend precious time and resources going after sock stealers. If this is a first or second offense, chances are high that the charges may be dismissed, or we can negotiate no jail time in exchange for a guilty or no contest plea. Or we may be able to have the charges reduced to attempted theft, depending on the circumstances. With an experienced criminal defense attorney, it is often possible to get these crimes pled out with minimal to no jail time, or even outright dismissed.

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A Chicago man was charged with six counts of theft by deception for allegedly obtaining merchandise through telephone solicitations and then turning around and selling it for cash.

Defense of Chicago Theft by Deception

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The article does not clarify the alleged deception, but one likely scenario (and the one we will assume for purposes of the discussion in this post) is that the defendant posed as an employee of a charitable organization and called homes and/or businesses soliciting donations. Upon being offered items of significant value, collected the items and turned around and sold them for cash.

Regardless of the details of how the alleged crime unfolded, theft requires that the defendant “knowingly” obtain control over another’s property by deception. So defense against the charge would focus on raising reasonable doubt as to whether the defendant’s actions were done with proper intent – whether he knew that he was obtaining control over another person’s property through the alleged deception. Factors that would need to be considered in determining whether the defendant had the requisite knowledge include:

  • Did the defendant make the phone calls soliciting the property;
  • If the defendant made the phone calls, was it at the direction of a third-party for what he believed was a legitimate, legal purpose, and;
  • If the defendant sold the property at the direction of a third-party, did he know it was obtained through deception.

If the defendant made the phone calls and sold the property under the direction of a third party, and was led to believe that the solicitation and sale of the property was for a legitimate purpose, then he did not knowingly obtain control over the property with the intent to deprive the owner of his control. Instead, he himself was under the false assumption that the solicitation was genuine and not for the purpose of illegally obtaining the victim’s property.

If, however, the evidence tends to show that the defendant did knowingly obtain the property through deception, then it would be to his advantage to negotiate a plea agreement with the prosecutor. The defendant was charged with six counts of theft ranging from $300 to $1,000 per instance. Assuming that five of the six charges were for $1,000, the maximum value of stolen property would be $5,300.

Going to trial for a string of thefts of such a small amount – and in cases where the victims willingly gave away their property, albeit under false pretenses – would be a waste of time and resources for both the prosecution and the court system to have a case this size go to trial. These types of cases are prime examples of how the skill and expertise of an experienced Chicago theft crimes attorney can mean the difference between a lengthy prison term – theft of less than $10,000 in property is a Class 3 felony, and conviction on each charge carries the possibility of between two and five years in prison – and a concurrent sentence or even probation. Continue reading

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A Cook County correctional officer was charged with theft for allegedly purchasing a watch he knew was stolen property. The arrest was the result of a joint operation by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, part of the Sheriff’s Office’s continued effort to cut down on corruption and officer misconduct at the Cook County Jail.

Chicago Theft Defense

A Chicago theft crime occurs if a person “obtains control over stolen property knowing that the property was stolen, or under such circumstances as he or she would reasonably believe that the property was stolen.”

Whether control over the stolen property was “knowing” is a major requirement of the crime and, if the prosecution cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew the property was stolen, the defendant cannot be convicted, even if the property was stolen. So in cases of theft, the primary defense would be that the defendant did not know, nor was it reasonable for him to know, that the property was stolen.

In this case, the defendant allegedly received information from a prison inmate (who was working with the Sheriff’s Office and FBI as part of the sting) that he could purchase stolen property from a third party outside the prison. However, unless the inmate was wired, it would come down to the word of a prison inmate – who presumably was offered some type of incentive to participate, whether it was a reduced sentence or privileges within the prison – versus the corrections officer regarding whether the prison inmate told the corrections officer the property was stolen.

It is true that the defendant was unwise in taking the inmate’s advice on where to get a good deal on a watch. But bad judgment does not mean the defendant knew the property was stolen. Perhaps he thought the inmate was telling him about a great deal on a watch in exchange for privileges or some other reward.

Even if the inmate was wired, and the recordings would prove that the defendant knew the property was stolen, an argument could be made that the defendant was acting out an unauthorized sting of his own – that his plan was to check out the warehouse the inmate directed him to, see if the property was stolen, and then report the theft ring to the authorities, perhaps hoping that the bust would gain him a promotion or some other accolades.

If, however, the facts show that the defendant did, in fact, know that the property was stolen when he purchased it, then defense would turn to getting the charges reduced and seeking a reduced sentence. The defendant was charged with a Class 3 felony, based on the fact that the watch he purchased had an approximately value of $1,200. In order to get the charges dropped to a class A misdemeanor, the defense would need to prove that the actual value of the watch was $500 or less.

There may also be a defense of entrapment, which I discussed in an earlier blog entry. A defendant is not guilty of the charged offense if he can prove that his conduct was incited or induced by an agent of a public officer. Here, the prison inmate was part of the sting operation at the direction of the Sheriff’s Office and FBI; therefore, he was acting as their agent. If the defendant can prove that the inmate’s behavior was so egregious that it would cause any reasonable person to have gone and purchased the property, then the defendant will be acquitted.

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An unidentified person allegedly stole jewelry from inside a home during a Skokie estate sale last week. The case is interesting because it raises a number of different issues that the prosecution will need to overcome if an arrest is made and charges filed, as well as many possible defense strategies to explore.

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At the outset, the prosecution faces an uphill battle in obtaining a positive identification of the alleged thief. In reference to the estate sale, individuals were no doubt going in and out of the home. Any forensic evidence found at the scene – such as fingerprints, clothing fibers, or other DNA evidence – cannot provide a smoking gun. Here, the suspect was “invited” into the home for purposes of the sale. Absent any forensic evidence tying the suspect to the scene, an eyewitness identification is strongly in doubt. With the family talking to dozens of people while trying to make sales, without any distinguishing characteristics on the suspect’s part, it will be difficult for eyewitnesses to testify with certainty that the suspect was present in the home.

Even if caught – for example, if a local pawn shop reports purchasing the stolen jewelry – it is difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect was the person who stole the jewelry. Without a positive identification or any forensic evidence tying him to the scene, there are any number of possible reasons the suspect could have come into possession of the jewelry. He could have purchased it from a different pawn shop, received it as a gift, or even found it discarded in a trash can or on the side of the road.

Skokie Defense of Theft

From the defense side, there are several issues to explore regarding the estate sale itself that could help cast doubt on the suspect’s guilt:

  • Was there a “free” table at the sale? If there was, it raises the possibility that another attendee, or even a family member, mistakenly laid the jewelry on that table, leading the suspect to believe it was free for the taking;
  • How many people were in charge of handling transactions? If there was more than one person handling sales, it is possible that the suspect actually paid for the item. Lack of communication between salespeople could cause the sale to not be properly recorded, thus leading to a misunderstanding that the item was stolen;
  • Do any of the people running the estate sale carry a criminal history of theft or similar crimes themselves? It is possible one of the salespeople simply pocketed the money from the sale and reported it as stolen to cover his tracks;
  • Is there animosity among the family members set to inherit the estate? Proceeds from the estate sale are deposited into the estate and used to pay estate bills before they are ultimately distributed to the heirs. If there was a disagreement amongst family members as to who should receive the allegedly stolen piece of jewelry, a decision of the majority of the heirs would win. A disgruntled family member who wanted the jewelry may have pocketed it and concocted the theft story to deflect blame.

Each of these scenarios would cast serious doubt on the defendant’s guilt, and are all avenues that David L. Freidberg would explore in working to get the charges dropped or the case dismissed.  Continue reading

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A former Chicago police chief is set to stand trial in late September on charges of felony theft of government property, misallocation of funds and official misconduct. The police chief, who pled not guilty to the charges in February 2013, is accused of stealing more than $140,000 from the city’s drug asset forfeiture fund.

Chicago Felony Theft Charge

Felony theft of Illinois government property occurs when the defendant obtains or exerts control over property in the custody of any law enforcement agency. Felony theft of government property is a serious crime that imposes harsher penalties than other theft categories – in this case, a Class X felony due to the amount of money allegedly stolen and the fact that it was stolen from a government agency. A Class X felony carries the potential for a minimum of six years in prison, with a maximum of 30 years.

The defense attorney recently filed a motion requesting that the prosecution provide more details on the intent element and on the transactions themselves. This is an important motion, as it deals with an essential element of the crime, and whether the defendant should have been charged with a lower class of felony.

Intent to Deprive

Felony theft is a specific intent crime, which means that in order to prove guilt, the prosecution must be able not only to prove that the defendant took the money knowing he was not entitled to it, but that he also intended to permanently deprive the rightful owner of the use of the property, or used it in such a manner that would deprive the rightful owner of the use of the property.

How does this work in terms of defense? Let’s assume that the prosecution can prove that the defendant knew he was not entitled to the money when he took it. The prosecutor still must prove that the defendant intended to permanently deprive the city of its right to the money. It may be possible, therefore, to make the argument that at the time the defendant took the money, he intended to repay it; that he simply had fallen on hard times, and was using it as a stopgap measure until he was able to obtain other income.

Class 1 v. Class X Felony Theft

The defense attorney also requested more information on the details of each interaction. In Illinois, theft from a government agency is a Class 1 felony if the value of the property stolen was $500 or less.

Although the total value of the money allegedly stolen by the defendant was $140,000, the law does not specifically state that the total value is cumulative. Meaning, if the amount allegedly stolen was taken in numerous increments of $500 or less, an argument could be made that each separate occurrence should be charged as Class 1, rather than a Class X, felony. This would result in a significant reduction in sentence if the defendant is found guilty – up to three years in prison for a Class 1 felony versus the potential 30-year sentence for a Class X felony.  Continue reading