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Car Dealership Employee Faces Theft Charges For Paying Herself Unauthorized Bonuses


Until recently, Ariel Rutenbeck worked at a Chevrolet dealership in Clearwater.  News sources do not indicate her position title, but they did say that she was one of only two employees who had access to the dealership’s payroll system.  The company’s Chief Financial Officer conducted an audit of the payroll system when reports showed that tens of thousands of dollars were unaccounted for.  The audit revealed that, between May 2020 and July 2022, Rutenbeck paid herself a series of unauthorized bonuses adding up to more than $28,000.  Upon finding out that there was a warrant out for her arrest, Rutenbeck turned herself in at the Pinellas County jail in October 2022.  She was charged with grand theft but went free after posting a $5,000 bond.  No news reports about her case have been published since October 2022.  If you are facing criminal charges for mishandling money at your workplace, contact a West Palm Beach white collar crime lawyer.

Why Is the Defendant Facing Charges for Grand Theft Instead of Another Offense?

For her alleged diverting of funds from her place of employment, Rutenbeck faced charges of grand theft.  According to Florida law, felony charges of grand theft can apply whenever someone steals property worth more than $750.00.  Because of the amount Rutenbeck is accused of stealing, her charges are for second-degree grand theft.  Charges of second-degree grand theft apply when the stolen property has a value of at least $20,000 but not more than $50,000.

The maximum penalty for second-degree grand theft is 15 years in prison or 15 years on probation, plus $10,000 in criminal fines.  Some defendants convicted of grand theft must pay restitution to the victims.  This means returning the stolen money or paying an amount equivalent to the stolen items.

Theft charges can apply no matter the relationship between the defendant and the victim.  You can face charges for theft if you are accused of stealing from a complete stranger, a family member, your employer, or anyone else.  Theft is different from robbery because it does not involve threats of violence.  It is different from burglary because it does not involve unlawful entry into the victim’s property.

What Consequences Could the Defendant Face?

Although it is possible to get a long prison sentence for a second-degree grand theft conviction, it is not the only possible outcome.  Your sentence depends in part on whether you have a prior criminal record.  The chances are also greater that you will get a shorter prison sentence, or even avoid incarceration entirely, if you plead guilty than if a jury finds you guilty at trial.  It is always worthwhile to hire a criminal defense lawyer to fight your charges or seek a plea deal.

Contact a West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

Attorney William Wallshein has more than 39 years of experience, including five years as a prosecutor in Palm Beach County.  Contact William Wallshein P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida to discuss your case.



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