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