“Theft by Deception” Charges Result from Allegedly Fraudulent Donation Campaign

“Theft” is one of the most foundational offenses in criminal law, encompassing a wide range of alleged violations of other people’s property rights. The simplest definition of theft is taking someone else’s property without the owner’s consent. Each element of that definition, however, can be profoundly complicated, depending on the circumstances. Which sorts of acts constitute “taking” something? How should the law define the owner’s “consent” or lack thereof? State theft laws cover a wide range of acts. Texas has consolidated almost all Texas theft offenses under a single section of the Penal Code, but many states still have multiple theft offenses on the books. State prosecutors in Maine, for example, recently brought charges of “theft by deception” against a woman accused of obtaining more than $10,000 in donations by falsely claiming to have advanced breast cancer.

Criminal offenses that fall under the general legal category of “theft” include larceny, shoplifting, embezzlement, and false pretenses. The offense of “theft by deception,” under Maine law, involves “obtain[ing] or exercis[ing] control over property of another as a result of deception and with intent to deprive the other person of the property.” 17-A Me. Rev. Stat. § 354(1)(A). The statute defines “deception” as “an impression that is false and that the person does not believe to be true,” which a person “creates,” “reinforces,” or “fails to correct.” Id. at § 354(2).

In Texas, the consolidated “theft” statute includes multiple offenses previously defined separately, including “theft by false pretext.” Tex. Pen. Code § 31.02. Finding the equivalent of the Maine statute requires examining various definitions. “Theft” consists of “unlawfully appropriat[ing] property with intent to deprive the owner of property.” Id. at § 31.03(a). “Unlawful” appropriation of property can occur when the person does not have “the owner’s effective consent.” Id. at § 31.03(b)(1). “Effective consent” excludes consent that was “induced by deception or coercion.” Id. at § 31.01(3)(A). Finally, the definition of “deception” is similar to the one found in Maine. Id. at § 31.01(1).

According to local media reports, prosecutors in Cumberland County, Maine indicted a woman on a charge of theft by deception in early May 2017. The defendant allegedly told people that she had been diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer. Multiple individuals and businesses donated money to help with the cost of cancer treatment between October 2015 and January 2017. Donations reportedly totaled $10,500. Friends of the defendant became suspicious in early 2017 when she did not show the usual symptoms of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. This led to a police investigation and a criminal charge.

The defendant could face up to 10 years’ imprisonment if convicted, since the amount of the alleged theft exceeds $10,000. 17-A Me. Rev. Stat. §§ 354(1)(B)(1), 1252(2)(B). She pleaded not guilty in late June 2017. Prosecutors will have to prove that she acted with “intent to deprive” others of their property. Media reports have indicated that some of her friends “think she perpetrated the scheme for the attention, not money.” This is not likely to serve as a defense to a theft charge, but it could conceivably be a mitigating factor in her favor.

These blog posts are meant to be illustrative only. Unless expressly stated to the contrary herein, these matters are not the result of any legal work of Michael J. Brown, but are used to communicate a particular point of view. Michael J. Brown does not claim credit for any legal work done by any lawyer or law firm either generally or specifically, with respect to the matters contained in this blog.

Board-certified white collar crime lawyer Michael J. Brown has advocated for the rights of people facing federal and state charges in in West Texas courts for over 20 years. Contact us online or at (432) 687-5157 today to schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you.

More Blog Posts:

Federal Cybercrime Statute Covers Wide Range of Activity, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, January 25, 2017

Study Compares Amount Seized by Law Enforcement through Civil Forfeiture to Amount Stolen by Burglars, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 28, 2016

Theft and Misuse of Computer Data Are Becoming Major Areas of Cybercrime Prosecutions, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, December 17, 2014

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