When you think of the crime of theft, you probably picture someone shoplifting an item from a big box store, or a burglar ransacking a garage that was left open at night. The physical act of taking something from someone without their knowledge is the basis for the crime of theft in Minnesota, but it’s not the only way theft can occur. Sometimes theft can occur right in front of our very eyes, and we’re none the wiser. This is what often occurs in theft by swindle cases.
What Is Theft By Swindle?
As defined in Minnesota Statutes section 609.52, subdivision 2(4), theft by swindle occurs when a person, “whether by artifice, trick, device, or any other means, obtains property or services from another person,” in which the other person is under a false premise about the value or true nature of the goods. The definition can be a little confusing, but in essence, if you try to buy, trade or sell something, and you misrepresent part of the deal, you can be charged with theft by swindle.
Theft by swindle is probably easiest to understand with examples. Here’s a look at some common instances where one party could be charged with theft by swindle.
- Selling knowingly counterfeit tickets to a game or concert.
- Switching price tags on an item so it rings up at the register at a lower cost.
- Marking items as defective so they can be sold to friends and family at a much cheaper price.
- Altering a product so it seems newer (rolling back vehicle odometers, putting old iPads in newer boxes, etc.)
- Writing checks on a closed account.
- Selling counterfeit merchandise, like a Rolex or Prada handbag.
These are just a few examples, but they help to convey the overall actions that need to be present for a person to be charged in theft by swindle.
Potential Penalties and Defenses
The potential penalties for theft by swindle vary based on the value of the goods swindled.
- Less than $500 is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and fines up to $1,000.
- Between $500 and $1,000 is a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and fines up to $3,000.
- Between $1,000 and $5,000 is punishable by up to five years in jail and fines up to $10,000.
- Between $5,000 and $35,000 is punishable by up to 10 years in jail and fines up to $20,000.
- More than $35,000 is punishable by up to 20 years in jail and fines up to $100,000.
If you’ve been charged with theft by swindle, there are some defenses you can pursue. The two most common defenses are that you didn’t knowingly or intend to steal the property, or that you were not lying about the goods you were selling. For example, if a product got marked with the wrong price or you did not know the tickets were fake, you may be able to beat the charges. Or, if you were up front and honest with the buyer, and they still went through with the purchase and only later had buyer’s remorse, you may be able to have the charges dropped.
Your best option after being charged with theft by swindle is to contact a Minnesota criminal defense lawyer like Avery Appelman. He’ll sit down with you during our free strategy session and talk about your legal options. If you want to set that up, give us a call at (952) 224-2277.