Two transient women were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit fraud when it was discovered they were lying to passersby to elicit donations. C. Doll, 26, of Loma Linda was arrested on the corner of Tippecanoe Ave. and Coulston St. in San Bernardino where she was panhandling. An hour later, another woman, this time 41-year-old M. Love of Yucca Valley, was arrested on the same corner for the same reason.
During the booking and processing procedure, it was discovered that the two women were linked — the women were working together to make signs in order to get donations from the public. The sign that the two women created was a large poster that had a baby’s face on it, which they used to ask the public for donations to pay the baby’s funeral costs. Deputies working with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department determined that the baby on the poster didn’t belong to either woman, nor was there any need for funeral and burial costs. Both women were charged with conspiracy to commit fraud.
According to California Penal Code 182 PC, a criminal conspiracy takes place when at least two or more individuals agree to commit a crime and at least one of them commits an overt act in furtherance of that crime. For example, if two people agree to burn down someone’s house, and one of them buys an accelerant and some matches, both parties will be vulnerable to conspiracy charges. For someone to be charged with conspiracy, it isn’t necessary that the planned crime actually takes place, nor will they be charged for simply planning to commit a crime. For someone to be eligible for conspiracy charges, they must plan to commit a crime with someone else and do something to bring those plans to fruition. The act doesn’t necessarily have to be criminal in nature. As mentioned above, there’s nothing illegal about purchasing matches and an accelerant (light fluid, gasoline, etc.). However, buying those items becomes a crime once it’s been agreed upon by two or more people to use them to commit a crime.
Interestingly, there doesn’t need to be a formal or explicit agreement between the parties; it’s possible for investigators to establish that an agreement existed by examining the parties’ actions. Additionally, when people are charged with violating 182 PC, they become criminally responsible for any crimes committed by co-conspirators in furtherance of the conspiracy. So, if the person in the example above chose to steal the accelerant and matches, and got caught for it, then the other conspirator would be responsible for the theft, even if they weren’t involved in it or knew it was happening.
Conspiracy to commit fraud is a “wobbler” under California law, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. If charged as a misdemeanor, the penalties include a maximum fine of $10,000 and up to one year in county jail. If charged as a felony, the fine is the same, but the jail time is increased to 16 months to three years in county jail.