Skip to Main Content

Theft by Fraud is Still Theft in Texas

Fraud is a form of theft. In effect, it is the white collar crime equivalent of robbery. And while there may be no physical violence involved, Texas law treats theft-by-fraud just as seriously.

Houston Court Upholds 9-Year Sentence of Man Convicted of Obtaining Trucks via Fraudulent Loan Promises

For example, if you convince someone to give you their property through the use of fraudulent means, that can be prosecuted as theft. Consider this recent decision by the Texas First District Court of Appeals here in Houston, Zuniga v. State. This case involves a man who allegedly stole not one, but two trucks by simply driving them off the lot with the original owner’s consent.

Here is what actually happened. According to the evidence at trial, the defendant and his girlfriend visited a Dodge dealership in June 2015. They told the dealer they wanted to purchase a used truck. The defendant told the dealership’s finance manager that “he had secured a loan from an outside lender” and provided contact information. Based on this promise of outside funding, the manager gave the defendant the keys to the truck and allowed him to take it off the lot.

Later, the manager learned there was no third-party financing deal. Another dealership employee made multiple attempts to contact the defendant “demanding the truck’s return,” but he never received a response. The dealership then reported the truck as stolen to the police.

Meanwhile, a police detective in Selma, Texas, was investigating a similar incident at a local Honda dealership that occurred less than a week before the reported theft at the Dodge dealership. The detective ultimately identified the defendant as a suspect in both incidents.

The detective then traced the missing Honda to another man, who claimed he “paid a Craigslist seller $9,800 for the truck.” Later, the police recovered the missing Dodge, which was also posted for sale. Police then arrested the defendant and his girlfriend on felony theft charges related to the Honda.

At trial, the defendant objected to letting the jury hear anything about his alleged role in the Dodge theft, arguing it would be too prejudicial. The judge overruled the objection, noting that under Texas court rules evidence of an “extraneous offense” is admissible if it shows the defendant “has previously participated in recent transactions other than, but similar to, that which the prosecution is based.” Such evidence is only relevant, however, as to the defendant’s “knowledge or intent,” rather than as proof of his character (or lack thereof.)

The jury ultimately returned a guilty verdict on third-degree felony theft charges. The court sentenced the defendant to nine years in prison. On appeal, the defendant argued the trial court erred in not granting a mistrial after evidence emerged that one of the prosecution’s witnesses–the person who purportedly bought the Honda from the Craigslist ad–lied on the stand. The First District said it was not clear from the record the witness actually lied, but even if he did, there was more than enough remaining evidence to sustain the defendant’s conviction–including the testimony of the defendant’s girlfriend, who admitted to the entire scheme at trial.

Contact a Galveston White Collar Crimes Lawyer Today

Anytime the government believes you have obtained something of value by fraudulent means, you can be charged with a crime under Texas law. And as the case above illustrates, the penalties can be quite severe. That is why you need to work with an experienced Houston white collar crimes defense attorney. If you are in legal trouble and need assistance, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston or League City today.