Recently, a Los Angeles man was arrested and charged with dozens of felony counts of grand theft, forgery, and identity theft after a nine-year white-collar crime spree. According to authorities, R. Gutierrez and W. Rodriguez prepared fraudulent structural engineering plans, reports, and other relevant documents using the name of Palos Verdes Engineering Co. – a legitimate engineering firm – in order to dupe people into believing that the documents had been reviewed and approved by an actual licensed civil engineer. They are alleged to have perpetrated their scheme from 2003 to 2014, and it’s believed that there are more than 735 victims.
Grand theft is covered under California Penal Code 487 PC and described as the unlawful taking of someone’s property that is valued over $950. In California, grand theft can be carried out in a number of ways:
- Grand theft by larceny – The most prominent type, grand theft by larceny is when someone physically carries off someone else’s property.
- Grand theft by false pretenses – Theft by false pretense occurs when someone knowingly and intentionally deceives another (usually by lying) in an attempt to persuade the person to let the thief take possession of the victim’s property.
- Grand theft by trick – It involves obtaining property owned by someone else using fraud or deceit.
- Grand theft by embezzlement – It is defined as fraudulently using property that you were entrusted with by the owner for your own gain.
Grand theft is a “wobbler” that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Misdemeanor charges include up to one year in county jail. Felony charges include felony probation with up to one year in county jail.
Forgery is covered under California Penal Code 470 PC and is described as knowingly signing someone else’s name, faking a seal or someone else’s handwriting, changing or falsifying any legal document, and faking, altering or presenting as genuine any document pertaining to money, finances or property. Misdemeanor charges for forgery carry the possible penalties of up to one year in county jail, a $1,000 fine, restitution and informal probation. Felony charges for forgery include 16 months to three years in county jail, a fine of up to $10,000, informal or formal probation, and payment of restitution to any victims.
Finally, California Penal Code 530.5 PC covers identity theft. Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America, and can be charged in a wide variety of circumstances. The legal definition essentially states that identity theft is the unlawful or fraudulent use of another person’s identifying information. Like the preceding crimes, identity theft is a “wobbler.” Misdemeanor charges include up to one year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Felony penalties include 16 months to three years in county jail and up to $10,000 in fines.
Unfortunately for the many alleged victims, since neither defendant was a licensed, professional civil engineer, many of the structures built to their specifications may be unsafe and need to be rebuilt.