White Collar Crimes

White collar crime is generally considered to be a non-violent act which involves some sort of deception. These crimes are most often committed by a business person or, in some cases, a public official. The evidence of these crimes typically include a paper trail which investigators use to try and build a case against the accused. Law enforcement agencies aggressively investigate these allegations. San Diego white collar crimes attorney Pedro Bernal has both prosecuted and defended white-collar crimes and understands what needs to go into a successful defense for these charges. If you’ve been accused of a white-collar crime, call us today for a free consultation.

Different Types of White Collar Crime Accusations

We defend those accused of any white collar crime including:

  • Fraud
  • Extortion
  • Violations of antitrust laws
  • Internet fraud
  • Money laundering
  • Mail fraud
  • Embezzlement
  • Insurance Fraud
  • Credit card fraud
  • Insider trading
  • Computer hacking
  • Insurance fraud
  • Forgery
  • Identity theft
  • Securities fraud
  • Violations of environment law
  • Counterfeiting
  • Bankruptcy fraud

While white collar crimes may not rise to the level of more violent criminal acts, the repercussions for a conviction can be extremely far-reaching. The burden on the state of California is to prove you had intent to commit the crime you have been charged with. Despite the fact you may have benefitted financially from the crime, the state must show beyond a reasonable doubt there was intent on your part to commit the crime.

Most Common Types of White Collar Crime Allegations


Embezzlement is, far and away, the most common form of white collar crime, and is defined under California law as taking property which did not belong to you, but was entrusted to your care. The charges of embezzlement must show the owner of the property in question trusted you because you were:

  • An employee,
  • Given temporary possession of the property, or
  • You were a trustee, board member or principal of an organization who was given the right to manage the money or property

Under Penal Code §503, embezzlement charges may be brought against those who took large amounts of money as well as those who took relatively minor amounts of money.
One point to remember is that if you took money or property with every intention of giving it back, you could still be found guilty of embezzlement. Perhaps you are the person who makes cash deposits in your business and you have recently had a financial setback. You “borrow” a few hundred dollars from the deposit, fully intending to repay the money as soon as you receive your next paycheck.
Your intent to repay the money will not help you if charged with embezzlement.

Penalties for Embezzlement

Under California law, embezzlement is punished as a grand theft or petty theft.

Grand Theft Embezzlement

Grand theft will apply if the property taken is:

  • Worth more than $950,
  • Firearm, or
  • An automobile

Penalties for a conviction of misdemeanor grand theft embezzlement can be as much as a year behind bars in a county jail.
Penalties for a conviction of felony grand theft embezzlement can bring up to three years in jail.

Petty Theft Embezzlement

When the property taken is worth less than $950—and does not include a firearm or an automobile—a conviction for the misdemeanor petty theft can result in up to six months in county jail.

Fines for Embezzlement

Fines can range as high as $10,000 for the most serious type of felony grand theft embezzlement.

An embezzlement conviction can devastate your personal and professional life for a very long time, making it difficult to secure employment, rent a home, secure a government student loan or obtain a professional license. Gathering the right evidence and speaking to the right people are the key components in a solid embezzlement defense. An experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney can help ensure the true story emerges, while protecting your rights and your future.


When deliberate deception is used in order to secure unfair or unlawful gain, fraud may be charged under California Penal Code §470-483.5. Many white collar crimes involve fraud; a person may defraud another person or corporation with the intent of securing goods, services or money at a significantly reduced cost, or by selling goods or service for significantly more than they are worth.

Charges of fraud can also include banking fraud, check fraud, mail fraud, tax fraud, mortgage fraud, or any crime which includes obtaining a document or license using false pretenses. In some cases, fraud is charged along with charges of embezzlement.

Penalties for Fraud

A conviction for fraud can result in high fines and significant jail or prison sentences. The facts surrounding the case will determine whether the fraud is charged as a misdemeanor or felony. In some cases fraud offenses may be charged as a federal crime, meaning you could be prosecuted in state as well as federal court, and may be subjected to additional penalties.


Creating a falsified version of a government-issued document or a legally binding business contract, or printing U.S. currency outside the Federal Reserve can result in charges of forgery. Charges of fraud are governed by California Penal Code §470(a). If you are accused of signing your boss or supervisor’s name to a check, then cashing it and keeping the money, you could be charged with forgery and embezzlement.

Penalties for Forgery

Forgery charges under California law are “wobblers,” meaning you could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances surrounding the charges. A conviction for a misdemeanor forgery charge can result in up to a year in county jail, while a conviction for a felony forgery charge can result in up to three years in county jail as well as significant fines.

Identity Theft

California Penal Code §530.5 addresses identity theft. In 2014, identity theft reached epidemic levels, with the FTC recording 332,646 identity theft complaints. All types of fraud combined, including identity theft, cost the American public more than $1.7 billion in 2014, or an average amount of $2,000 per incident.

Identity theft is the use of someone else’s personal information, with a goal of conducting a fraudulent act. This can include setting up credit cards in someone else’s name, accessing another person’s bank accounts or credit information with a goal of making purchases (often done online), leaving the other person responsible for the charges. Identity theft can also include using another’s social security number, birth certificate or other personal, identifying information.

While everyone is vulnerable to identity theft, children and the elderly are targeted most often. States with the largest populations—such as California—are the most prone to identity theft, and, in fact, California reports more incidents of identity theft than almost any other state.

Penalties for Identify Theft

Identity theft is also a wobbler in the state of California, and can be punished as a misdemeanor or a felony. A felony identity theft conviction can result in a maximum fine of $10,000 and/or up to three years in county jail. A misdemeanor identity theft conviction can result in a maximum fine of $1,000 and/or up to a year in county jail.

Potential Defenses for White Collar Crimes

Your San Diego criminal defense attorney will be able to tailor your defense to the specific crime and the circumstances surrounding the crime.

For the crime of identity theft, your attorney may be able to claim you did not use the information obtained for any type of unlawful purpose, you had no criminal intent, or you are actually innocent and are the victim of either false accusations or mistaken identity.

For the charge of embezzlement, your criminal lawyer may be able to claim you lacked criminal intent, or that you believed, in good faith, you had a right to the property or money taken. If you believed you had a right to the money or property taken, then it will have to be shown you made no attempt to cover up the fact you took the money or property, and that it was not taken because you believed you were owed a debt by the owner.

“Intent” to commit a criminal act can be difficult to prove; what may seem to be embezzlement could simply be a mistake made on your part.

While false accusations occur in many alleged crimes, embezzlement cases are particularly prone to false accusations. This is due to the fact that in most embezzlement charges, the “victim” had either a personal or a business relationship with the accused. The “victim” may also be seeking to lay the blame on another person after suffering some type of financial loss, or could be engaging in an act of revenge for a real or imagined slight.

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“Pedro Bernal is a very experienced attorney. As a former prosecutor he has the experience and insight necessary to be a true advocate for his clients. He is very professional and diligent in responding to phone calls and emails. Pedro handles a broad array of criminal matters ranging from White Collar crimes to health insurance fraud; he truly knows the ins and outs of how a case is prosecuted and tried in court. I highly recommend Pedro Bernal to any individual that is facing charges or has been arrested for a criminal offense or a civil regulatory violation. He truly provides the one-on-one attention that any client deserves.”

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“Exceptionally good attorney. Absolutely determined to win and serve to the best interest of his client. He was representing my opponent, and I lost in the court room hearing absolutely everything, even where I was feeling strong in my case. Representing my opponent, he was always very well prepared to the slightest details of the case, he was very well articulate representing his client side during the courtroom hearing session, he made a great positive impression on the judge, and kept his concentration till very end through the lengthy court sessions. He clearly demonstrated very strong motivation to win the case for his client, he did outstanding job educating and preparing his client for the win in the court room settings. His client got fortunate to have him in his corner. He righteously won based on his professional skills and qualities. I was also represented by an attorney, but lost everything where I was not even was supposed to to loose because he was so much better. He completely destroyed all my defense and totally negated all the strong points brought by my attorney in the case. He has all the professional and personal qualities you would look in the attorney to bring your case to victory in the court of the law”

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