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Embezzlement Definition

Embezzlement occurs when an individual misappropriates funds, goods or property that had been legally entrusted to them. Embezzlement is a type of fraud involving the theft of money from a business or person. In most embezzlement cases the key component to the case is that the defendant was unauthorized to use or have the money in question. Employers trust employees with sensitive financial and other data regularly and most embezzlement cases have their origin in violation of this trust. Embezzlement can also involve credit cards and other financial data used by a person to extract an amount of money or credit without authorization.

Embezzlement Elements

The most common elements of embezzlement are:

  • The assets embezzled must belong to another person or organization other than the defendant.
  • The assets must then be tampered with such as in a transfer of ownership or secreting funds away after the defendant has been entrusted with it.
  • The defendant must have willfully and intentionally defrauded the rightful owner of said assets by tampering with or converting this property.

Embezzlement Examples

Embezzlement is one of the most common forms of white collar crime and fraud. One example of embezzlement that can take place in a business environment is check forgery. With or without a signature stamp, an employee entrusted with a company fund can siphon away money into his or her own account, cleaning up the ledger behind him and making small allocations from other accounts to cover their tracks if necessary.

Using a company credit card for personal purchases is another extremely common form of embezzlement. Because the amounts are typically small, and the charges perhaps infrequent, this sort of illegal behavior may not be noticed for some time — if at all. It could be the case that the cardholder is the highest-level individual with access to the financials attached to the card, or that they are tech-savvy enough to obscure their activity or explain it away.

Is Embezzlement a Felony?

An embezzlement conviction can be classified as either a felony or as a misdemeanor, depending on the jurisdiction the offense is being prosecuted within as well as the severity of the crime.

At the federal level, embezzlement is treated as either a felony or misdemeanor offense. The penalty for embezzlement depends upon the value of the assets being stolen or misdirected. If the sum of the converted assets is greater than $1,000, those convicted of embezzlement in federal court face a fine of up to $250,000 in addition to a prison sentence of up to 10 years. If the sum is instead less than $1,000, those found guilty face a maximum fine of $100,000 as well as up to one year imprisonment.

For embezzlement to be tried in federal court, the offense typically involves a government employee as the perpetrator, or the assets in question to be held, supervised, managed or disbursed by the federal government.

Embezzlement charges can be levied at the state level as well. Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado and several other states offer various escalations of both felony and misdemeanor charges for embezzlement. Punishments typically range from three months to six months in county jail, in addition to relevant fines and remuneration, if you are convicted of misdemeanor embezzlement, and between one to 20 years imprisonment, as well as steeper fines and restitution, if you are found guilty of felony embezzlement.

Embezzlement vs. Larceny

While both embezzlement and larceny refer to types of theft, larceny takes place when the offender outright steals property from a victim. Embezzlement requires that the offender was lawfully entrusted with the eventually stolen or misappropriated assets at some point in time.

What Is the Statute of Limitations on Embezzlement?

At the federal level, there is a five-year statute of limitations concerning charges of embezzlement.

State statutes and statutes of limitations vary. In New York, misdemeanor embezzlement has a statute of limitations of two years, and a statute of five years is in place for felony embezzlement. Several states have similar guidelines in place as to how long, after the fact, charges can be brought against a suspected embezzler.

How an Attorney Can Help With Embezzlement Charges

If you are accused of embezzlement, whether at the state level or in federal court, you should consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

Legal counsel familiar with white collar crimes such as embezzlement can help present the best possible defense. In cases where going to trial may not be recommended from your attorney’s perspective, they may also be able to negotiate a favorable plea deal.

Why Should I Hire an Embezzlement Attorney?

If you are facing criminal embezzling charges you should retain a criminal defense attorney to help you protect your rights. An embezzlement attorney will act as an intermediary between you and the criminal justice system.

The criminal justice system is complex and can be confusing at times. It may be difficult for a person without legal training to fully understand the severity of their crime. The assistance of an embezzlement attorney is important because a trained legal professional will advise you as to the potential consequences you may face. Some of the other ways an embezzlement attorney can assist you include:

  • Explaining the allegations against you
  • Reviewing the police report for any mistakes or errors
  • Challenging the introduction of illegally obtained evidence
  • Being an intermediary between you and the court system
  • Analyzing any investigations that occurred
  • Helping you develop a defense plan
  • Raising any defenses that will mitigate or even dismiss your embezzlement charges
  • Discussing the options available to you
  • Negotiating a settlement on your behalf

The criminal justice system takes embezzlement very seriously. Unfortunately, criminal charges on your record may affect your chances of being able to secure employment in the future. Hiring a criminal defense lawyer to represent you is the best way to ensure that your case gets resolved with the best outcome for you.

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