The feds in the Central District of California prosecute a lot of people for using the internet or a computer to steal money or to launder money and they have special teams of agents that investigate these particular crimes.
I've represented many people over the last 26 years related to theft offenses — whether it be from a business, their employer, somebody on the internet who is being scammed out of money — there's a whole host of different ways that the internet and computers can be used to steal money from people.
Internet Fraud Cases
Most of the time, there's some sort of sophisticated activity going on and that's why the federal government typically gets involved where there's large sums of money involved. The feds have the investigators, the manpower and the money to investigate some of these sophisticated internet fraud cases.
A lot of times there are scams going on on the internet where people are pretending to be other people and are sending false emails or hacking into people's account and taking their money and the feds will investigate that. They have to track down the IP addresses and do some labor-intensive work in order to figure out who is involved and to be able to prove their case against a particular person.
Sometimes search warrants have to be obtained by judges. Forensic specialists have to look at computers and track information. Other times, believe it or not, someone will steal money from their employer for example and all roads lead back to them.
In other words, they're having checks sent to their own account, cashing them and taking the money out. It's real easy for the feds. For some reason, they don't think their employer will find out and that their employer will either use their own resources to figure out what happened or get the federal government involved in the case to investigate.
Investigating Computer Fraud Related Cases
The LAPD doesn't really have a lot of time for these internet fraud related cases where thousands of dollars' worth of money is being taken, so most of these cases, in my experience, are transferred to the federal government who has agents who can commit to investigating these type of offenses.
But even the feds have limitations, so there's only so many of these type of cases they can take. Typically, in my experience, they're only going to take cases that involve large sums of money or if you're talking about multiple jurisdictions.
They're definitely better suited — the federal government in Los Angeles — to handle those type of cases, to be able to collaborate and cooperate with other jurisdictions.
Also, to work with other law enforcement agencies in order to track money that's either being laundered, stolen or moved because of drugs, or money that's being moved because people are getting checks that are fake checks or people are getting real checks from people who have been scammed.
There's a hole host of different schemes that people use in order to steal money using the internet and using computers.
Penalties for Internet Fraud Charges
The punishment for these crimes, a lot of times, is going to be dictated by a number of different factors. Just to name a few of the factors that the courts will consider in the Central District of Los Angeles related to these internet-related theft crimes.
One, they're going to look at what the sophistication was and they can put extra levels on a person's sentence which leads to more time in custody if they can prove that this is a sophisticated scheme. Number two, they're going to look at the amount o money that was either taken or was intended to be taken and there's extra enhancements for those type of offenses.
Finally, they're going to look at the overall situation — what happened? Who the victim was? The person that actually committed the crime. Do they have a criminal record? Have they stolen from people before? What was the impact of the victim related to the theft offense?
Once they put all that together, the prosecutors will typically offer some sort of a plea agreement and the defense can counter that plea agreement or they can accept it.
Negotiation with Federal Prosecutor
Sometimes I will negotiate before hand so the plea agreement we get is already something that is reasonable under the circumstances. Once the person pleads, if that's what they choose to do, then the case will eventually be set for a plea in front of the judge.
After the plea, there will be a sentencing and everybody will weigh-in on the sentencing — the prosecutor, the probation department, and of course, the defense including the defendant, and then finally, the judge will make the final decision on what the federal sentence is in Los Angeles.
Hedding Law Firm is a criminal defense law firm located in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles County at 16000 Ventura Blvd #1208 Encino, CA 91436. We are also located at 633 West Fifth Street Los Angeles, CA 90071. Contact us for a free case evaluation at (213) 542-0979.