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When Is Shoplifting a Federal Financial Crime?

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Stealing merchandise from a retail store is a classic example of a minor crime. The value of the property represents only a tiny fraction of the company’s assets; a small business owner may feel the financial loss acutely, but a large corporation will not. Therefore, the conventional wisdom used to be that shoplifting was always a misdemeanor unless the stolen property was very valuable or unless the defendant already had prior convictions for shoplifting; even then, it was a state jail felony. The only way you could end up serving a multi-year prison sentence for retail theft is if you stole tens of thousands of dollars of merchandise; you would have to pull off a proper jewel heist at Jared. 

More recently, though, prosecutors have started to consider the context of retail theft; there is a difference between stealing a loaf of bread from a Walmart because your SNAP benefits aren’t enough to last through the month, on the one hand, and stealing electronics from a Walmart and reselling them to fund a drug trafficking organization, on the other. A shoplifting arrest can easily turn into much more serious legal problems, including federal financial crime charges. 

If you are being accused of organized retail theft or think that you are in danger of facing this charge, contact a Texas white-collar crime lawyer.

Possible Defenses to Accusations of Organized Retail Theft

Today, law enforcement looks at each incident of shoplifting as a small piece of a much more complex story. What did the defendant do with the stolen merchandise?  How did the defendant plan to carry out the retail theft, and who else was involved with the planning?  Stealing merchandise of modest value is not, by itself, a major crime, and neither is receiving stolen property of modest value.

If you are accused of stealing from a retail store or possessing stolen merchandise, investigators will try to find out if your alleged actions were part of a larger retail theft conspiracy. Federal lawmakers have even proposed legislation that would treat organized retail theft as a criminal enterprise, like illegal drug trafficking or organized fraud. Police might tell you that your only choice is to plead guilty to shoplifting or receiving stolen property and avoid charges for something worse, but this is not your best choice. Instead, you should meet with a criminal defense lawyer. You may find out that the evidence the prosecution plans to present does not clearly connect you to a major or minor criminal offense. You might also find that the prosecution illegally obtained the evidence that they plan to use to prove your role in a financial crime conspiracy. In any criminal case, no matter how strong the prosecution’s evidence seems, you have the right to present defenses.

Contact the Law Office of Patrick J. McLain, PLLC About Criminal Defense Cases

Dallas criminal defense lawyer can help you develop a successful defense strategy if you are being accused of organized retail theft or participating in a criminal enterprise. Contact the Law Office of Patrick J. McLain, PLLC, in Dallas, Texas, to discuss your case.

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