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I stole $50,000 from my employer over a 14 month period. They found out and terminated me. I scraped together $50,000 and gave them a cashier's check today.

I was told by someone in the company that they were not going to prosecute me criminally, but that it was possible that they would prosecute me civilly.

I don't know what this really means. I assume they are going to go after me for more money, but I'm wondering what they could ask for. Interest on the money over the 14 months? I don't believe that they can prove any damages that I caused. The $50,000 is a very small amount of what the company brings in even in a month's time.

Can someone shed some light on what I am likely to face in the coming weeks and months?

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    Talk to a lawyer. – BlueDogRanch Jul 21 '17 at 16:31
  • While I explore the outcome in different legal jurisdictions in the answer, the correct outcome depends upon the U.S. state or non-U.S. jurisdiction involved. Your rights and responsibilities would be different in some important but subtle issues presented in different places. – ohwilleke Jul 21 '17 at 20:50
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The Example of Colorado Law

In Colorado, a private individual who is a victim of theft can bring a lawsuit for civil theft in which a prevailing theft victim can recover the actual economic amount of the theft (including pre-judgment interest at the statutory rate from lost use of the stolen property per a separate pre-judgment interest statute), treble damages (i.e. actual damages plus twice that amount as a civil penalty), and their attorneys' fees and the costs of the litigation.

Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-4-405. Rights in stolen property

All property obtained by theft, robbery, or burglary shall be restored to the owner, and no sale, whether in good faith on the part of the purchaser or not, shall divest the owner of his right to such property. The owner may maintain an action not only against the taker thereof but also against any person in whose possession he finds the property. In any such action, the owner may recover two hundred dollars or three times the amount of the actual damages sustained by him, whichever is greater, and may also recover costs of the action and reasonable attorney fees; but monetary damages and attorney fees shall not be recoverable from a good-faith purchaser or good-faith holder of the property.

Returning the property stolen doesn't change the fact that civil theft was committed, it only reduces the amount of the damages by the amount repaid and prevents interest from continuing to accrue.

In practice, it would be very uncommon for someone to bring a suit for civil theft after they are repaid. But, nothing in principle prevents this from happening until the statute of limitations runs (in Colorado that is probably three years from the date that the theft is discovered), although there might be an argument that accepting the funds returned by mutual agreement might constitute a waiver of their claim, or might give rise to equitable defenses of estoppel or laches.

Criminal Charges

Of course, in the U.S., even if the company doesn't press charges, a prosecutor does have the authority to press criminal charges without their consent. A theft victim does not have the legal authority to relieve you of criminal liability for theft. There are some countries other than the U.S. where a theft victim can relieve someone who committed theft of criminal liability (if I recall correctly, Germany is one of them), but that is a minority position internationally as a legal matter (although actual practice is often different).

Civil Lawsuits For Theft In Other Jurisdictions

While most states do not have a statutory civil theft statute, almost every state and country would allow a civil lawsuit for "conversion" or the equivalent for taking property that does not belong to you for your own benefit (which is a tort). Other U.S. states and other countries would vary over whether repayment of funds converted prior to commencement of a lawsuit limits actual damages and exemplary damages based upon actual damages to pre-judgment interest, or even constitutes a complete defense, or not.

Most U.S. states allow for an award of punitive damages in connection with an intentional tort (statutes of limitations and pre-judgment interest award rules vary greatly). Most non-U.S. jurisdictions would not allow an award of punitive damages in a civil action involving an intentional tort.

In the absence of a statutory authorization of the kind found in Colorado, attorneys' fees and costs would normally not be allowed for a U.S. plaintiff in an intentional tort case like this one, but most non-U.S. courts would allow an award of attorneys' fees and costs to a prevailing party in a case like this one.

Practical Considerations

The fact that you repaid the funds makes some defenses to future civil or criminal charges very challenging. You can't truthfully deny that you repaid the funds and that comes close to an admission of guilt. But, if you state under oath that you engaged in this conduct, you make yourself vulnerable to criminal prosecution based upon that testimony under oath.

In practice, one reason that the business is actually unlikely to sue you in this situation (unless they discovered that more than $50,000 was taken) is that having lost your job and paid them $50,000 you may not be able to pay even a large judgment if it was awarded against you (although such a judgment, if entered, would probably not be dischargeable in bankruptcy under U.S. law). So, the cost-benefit analysis of such a suit for the company might not make much sense.

Also, while having a suit like this filed against you would certainly damage your reputation seriously in a way that could be located with a public records search, it might also moderately harm the reputation of the company which revealed that its internal controls were lax enough to make it possible for the theft to happen. In the case of a large business the damage that this could do to the fair market value of the business and its creditworthiness might outweigh the benefit it would receive from bringing such a lawsuit.

  • Thank you so much for your response. I am not going to pretend to understand a lot of it, but I will read this many times until I get it. I admitted to the crime. Honestly, they would be stupid to pursue any sort of legal action, because if they did, I'd be obligated to answer questions truthfully, and that would reflect poorly on their business model (payday loans). I just hope they let the matter die. But I'll always have this hanging over my head, with the axe ready to fall. I cannot believe I did this, and I will never do anything like this ever again. – Very Remorseful Jul 22 '17 at 0:10
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    @VeryRemorseful You should honestly stop typing. And consult an attorney and not say anything about this in public (including here) before you do. To your point, there is a thing called a statute of limitations after which time one cannot be sued or prosecuted for a given act. Not sure how long it is for that crime in your jurisdiction. But anyway, get a lawyer! – A.fm. Jul 22 '17 at 0:49

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