Criminal Law

What Is the Difference Between Embezzlement and Larceny?

Embezzlement and larceny are both types of theft. The main difference between larceny and embezzlement is that embezzlement generally involves theft by someone in a position of trust or authority over the items taken. This could include an employee taking something from work or an accountant cooking the books to put money in a personal account.

It is important to understand your state's embezzlement and larceny laws if you are ever charged with one of these offenses. There are legal defenses available to false allegations of theft that can help you avoid jail time and a criminal record. You should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney for help as soon as possible to mount a strong defense.

What Is Larceny?

Larceny is another term for theft. Some states use the term larceny to refer to criminal theft. Larceny involves taking property from someone else, without permission. Larceny charges may be further classified as grand larceny and petty larceny.

Petty larceny, or petit larceny, is the taking of something under a certain value from someone else. The value that separates petty larceny and grand larceny varies by state. For example, in Virginia, petit larceny is theft of money or other things with a value of less than $5. In California, petty theft is the wrongful taking of someone else's property valued at $950 or less.

Penalties for larceny vary by the value of the stolen items. Petty larceny is generally a misdemeanor offense, while grand larceny is often a felony. Stealing certain items may also fall under the grand larceny charge, regardless of their value, including:

  • Motor vehicles
  • Guns or firearms
  • Livestock

According to the FBI, larceny accounts for more than 70% of all property crimes. More than a quarter of these involved items taken from inside a vehicle. The average value of stolen property in 2016 was $999.

What Is Embezzlement?

Embezzlement involves theft of property that has been entrusted to you for your personal benefit. People often refer to embezzlement as a "white-collar crime."

Embezzlement generally involves theft by an employee, trust administrator, company officer, or government employee. Their job may involve handling money or accounts or controlling inventory. Embezzlement can take place over the course of years before anyone discovers it. Examples of embezzlement may include:

  • A bartender who pockets cash and does not ring it up as charges on the cash register.
  • A trustee who uses trust funds to pay for a personal vacation.
  • An accountant who creates fake invoices to be paid out of company funds.
  • A retail clothing worker who takes company clothing without paying for it.
  • Using a company credit card to pay for family to travel on a work vacation
  • Taking a company computer and falsely reporting it as stolen.

A recent example of embezzlement involved the comedian Dane Cook. Over the course of eight years, Cook's half-brother, Darryl McCauley, who was working as the comedian's business manager, was making payments to himself out of Cook's accounts through forged checks and wire transfers. After McCauley pleaded guilty to embezzlement and larceny charges, he received a six-year prison sentence and had to repay about $12 million in stolen funds.

Criminal Penalties for Larceny and Embezzlement

Some states, like New York, prosecute both crimes under theft statutes. Some states, like California, charge embezzlement as a separate offense. In Florida and Texas, embezzlement is prosecuted under common theft statutes.

The criminal penalties for larceny and embezzlement are based on many factors, including:

  • Total value of the assets taken
  • The defendant's criminal history
  • If the victim was elderly
  • If the theft involved government resources

If larceny involved a small amount of money or property, the defendant may face misdemeanor charges. A misdemeanor is generally punishable by a fine and up to one year in jail. If larceny is prosecuted as a felony, the penalties could be much more serious, including fines, restitution, and more than a year in prison.

Larceny and embezzlement may also involve other criminal charges related to the theft. This includes fraud to steal the money or concealing evidence. Related offenses may include:

  • Wire fraud
  • Computer fraud
  • Insurance fraud
  • Identity theft
  • Forgery
  • Check fraud

Getting Help From a Criminal Defense Lawyer

Many larceny and embezzlement cases begin with an internal investigation before referring the case to law enforcement. Cooperating with an internal investigation without understanding your rights could put you at risk. If you have been accused of theft or you are the suspect of an investigation related to embezzlement charges, talk to a criminal defense lawyer quickly about your rights. Building a strong defense sooner will benefit you in the long run.