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Is Misusing a Company Credit Card Actually a Crime?

“Theft” is the criminal offense of appropriating property without the owner’s consent. Not all theft involves violence, mind you. Simply taking money that belongs to someone else qualifies as theft.

Indeed, there are cases in Texas where individuals are charged, tried, and convicted of committing theft against their own employers based on the misuse of a company credit card. The Texas First District Court of Appeals here in Houston recently heard such a case, Mitchell v. State. The appeals court affirmed the defendant’s conviction and a 12-month jail sentence.

So what happened? The defendant worked as a driver for a concrete company. The company gave the defendant a credit card to pay for gas, specifically “diesel fuel for his company vehicle.” The defendant was allowed to use the card for other “nonfuel business expenses,” provided he received advance authorization and provided a receipt. The defendant was further required to sign a written agreement stating he would not use the card “to make personal purchases.” Any violation of this agreement could lead to the defendant’s termination and possible criminal prosecution.

About seven months into the defendant’s employment, the company said it found approximately $15,000 in “non-diesel and nonfuel purchases” made on the defendant’s credit card. These purchases were made when at times when the defendant was off-duty and in “locations where the Company was not doing work.” Most of these individual purchases were around $50.

The defendant admitted to occasionally using his company credit card to pay for gas in his personal vehicle. He disputed the $15,000 total. Nevertheless, the company fired the defendant and reported him to law enforcement. Prosecutors subsequently charged the defendant with criminal theft. A jury found the defendant guilty.

On appeal to the First District, the defendant argued there was insufficient evidence to show that he actually unlawfully appropriated property–in this case, “money”–from his employer. Although the defendant’s indictment said he appropriated money, he noted the evidence at trial only showed he appropriated “credit.” The defendant argued this difference should render his conviction invalid.

The Court of Appeals disagreed. It noted that the defendant’s “use of the Company’s charge card was the instrument by which he stole the Company’s money.” That is to say, the defendant made unauthorized purchases with the card and never attempted to pay the balance himself.

Now, there is a separate criminal statute covering “credit card abuse” in Texas. The defendant argued he should have been tried for this offense, which is different from theft. Again, the First District disagreed. The defendant’s conduct fell under both the credit card abuse and theft statutes–and prosecutors had the discretion “to charge and prosecute him under the more general statute for theft.”

Speak with a Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

Misusing a company credit card is not what most people think of when they think of criminal theft. But as the case above illustrates, there are serious criminal consequences for such actions. If you find yourself charged with theft or any similar offense and need representation from an experienced criminal defense attorney, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston, or League City today. Call (281) 280-0100