California Penal Code Section 424 PC: Misappropriation of Public Funds

1. Definition and Elements of the Crimeunlawful enrichment

People who serve in public office, especially those who handle or oversee public moneys, are often placed in positions of trust with little to no oversight. In some cases, people in these positions may abuse this trust in order to unlawfully enrich themselves. In recent years, there have been several high-profile incidents involving key players in local government who have been caught misappropriating public money. As a result, prosecutors, law enforcement and government watchdogs are on high alert for these types of crimes. Under California Penal Code Section 424 PC, misappropriation of public funds is a serious felony that can result in lengthy prison sentences for those convicted.

To prove that a defendant is guilty of misappropriation of public funds, a prosecutor must be able to prove the following elements:

  1. The defendant was an officer of the State of California, or of a county, city, town or district.

  2. As such, the defendant was charged with the receipt, safekeeping, transfer, or disbursement of public moneys.

  3. The defendant appropriated said money, or any portion thereof, to his own use or to the use of another.
    1. OR the defendant loaned said money, or any portion thereof.

    2. OR the defendant made a profit out of, or used said money for a purpose not authorized by law

    3. OR the defendant knowingly kept a false account, or made a false entry or erasure in an account of or relating to said money

    4. OR the defendant willfully refused or omitted to pay over, on demand, public money in his hands, upon presentation of a draft, order, or warrant drawn upon such money by competent authority

    5. OR the defendant willfully omitted to transfer said money, when such transfer was required by law.

    6. OR the defendant willfully omitted or refused to pay over to an officer or person authorized to receive said money, money received by the defendant under a duty imposed by law to pay over.

As used in the statute, “public moneys” includes the proceeds derived from the sale of bonds or other similar items. This statute does not apply to the incidental or minimal use of public resources.

2. Related Offenses

Other similar or related offenses include:

  1. Grand TheftCalifornia Penal Code Section 487 PC
  2. EmbezzlementCalifornia Penal Code Section 503 PC
3. Examples

A man is elected to serve as the comptroller of a suburban city. One of the man’s duties is to manage the city’s finances. Over a period of several years, the man misappropriates hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city’s accounts and funnels it to his own personal account. The man maintains a fake set of accounting books to hide his actions. This man could be charged with misappropriation of public funds in violation of California Penal Code Section 424 PC.

In another example, a man is the city manager of a small city. The man is charged with overseeing the city’s coffers. Occasionally, the man uses money belonging to the city to buy pizzas for his office staff in order to improve morale. He is not expressly authorized to make this expenditure, however it never amounts to more than $100 per year. This man would not be criminally liable under California Penal Code Section 424 PC because his expenditures would be considered an incidental or minimal use of public funds.

4. Defenses to Misappropriation of Public Funds

As described above, this statute specifically does not apply to incidental or minimal uses of public funds. Thus minor unapproved expenditures made by public officials would not be enough to expose a public official to criminal liability.

5. Penalties

Misappropriation of public funds is a serious felony offense. Someone convicted of this crime can be sentenced to serve up to four years in prison. In addition, he or she would have to repay the amount misappropriated through restitution. Someone convicted of this offense would be disqualified from holding any future public office in California.

6. Criminal Defense for Misappropriation of Public Funds Cases

If you are under investigation for misappropriating public funds, it is critical that you consult with an experienced Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney as soon as possible. Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut is a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience who previously prosecuted white collar crimes as part of the Los Angeles County District Attorney Office’s elite Major Fraud Division. Mr. Kraut knows how to effectively defend cases like this and works hard to make sure his clients’ interests are aggressively defended.

For more information about misappropriation of public funds, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1480, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.

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