Interviewer: When it comes to theft in general, what are some of the top misconceptions people have that you had to deal with?
Paul Tafelski: The biggest misconception is that the person accused of theft always steals and that he may always lie, and gets painted with a broad brush. Many times, these are just isolated incidents where things happen out of character, in particular when related to a stressful event or use of alcohol or drugs. They do stuff that’s really not who they are. So one of the biggest challenges is to present people in a positive light and overcome the stereotypes that are attached to people accused of theft crimes. Many times, for example, with shoplifting, you have some young clients who are with their friends and get caught up in peer pressure or just doing something adventurous.
Younger Individuals May Shoplift Due to Either Peer Pressure or Misguided Adventurism
They never even stop to consider how much trouble they could get in and at the end, they’re in big trouble. So, in those situations, what we have to do is convince the court that you have a good young person and they deserve a break and a chance to come out of this without a conviction on their record, so that they still have opportunity for college. One thing a lot of young people don’t realize is that if they get convicted of a felony, they’re not going to be eligible for federal financial aid going into college. A lot of these things that people get in trouble for doing something that they didn’t even think about and it takes a lot of work to fix those situations.
An Overview of White Collar Crimes In the State of Michigan
Interviewer: What does white-collar crimes refer to, is it referred to more the embezzlement?
Paul Tafelski: Typically that’s embezzlement or some kind of fraud. A lot of times, what happens with the embezzlement case is that a client started off where they were having financial problems or needed money for something and they had access to the company money. So they took some money but they had every intention to put it back and to fix the problem and nobody would ever know that they did anything. Then something happens and they can’t pay it back and they need more money and think, “that it was so easy the first time.” They take money again, and so on and so on. Then it gets easier and easier and the next thing they know, they’ve dug themselves in a big hole with a lot of money missing. It becomes obvious to the employer that something’s wrong and they figure it out, and the person gets busted.
A Person Might be Motivated to Embezzle Due to Personal Financial Hardship
In those situations, at first glance, it looks bad because it looks like there were many times when they took money that they didn’t have a right to. It makes them look like a bad person and so what we’ve been able to do in many situations is to tell the court and educate the court and the prosecutor on the whole story and why the person really is a good person and can still be trusted, even though they may have been guilty of the embezzlement. We’re often able to work out some kind of better deal for them and importantly keep them out of jail and keep them able to work and make a deal to pay back the money and minimize the damage to their record. There are a lot of situations in theft crimes where the person who’s accused of the crime looks really bad if you just read the police report. That’s where we’ve got to dig up facts and use them to our advantage.
Peer Pressure May Also Induce a Person to Embezzle From their Employer
Interviewer: Could it ever be a situation where someone says, “Hey, you know, this was so easy to do and I was pressured because there are some people in the company doing it as well”?
Paul Tafelski: Yes, absolutely. You don’t usually want to stay lumped together with those other people when the trouble really starts. You want to break out and be your own unique person who has a good positive story to tell and some ambitions and some hope for the future, and the ability to convince the court that you’re not who they think you are.