What Is Embezzlement?
Embezzlement falls under the umbrella of white-collar crime and other non-violent offenses. If you have been accused of embezzlement, it's important to understand the charges you face, the potential penalties if you're convicted, and your rights under the law. A criminal defense attorney can help you understand your legal options for fighting the charges, so it's important to consult a legal representative as soon as possible.
The Legal Definition of Embezzlement
Under the law, embezzlement is similar to theft with the key difference being that a person obtained goods or money by legal means before proceeding to use them fraudulently for their own benefit. For example, a cashier might be entrusted with operating their store's cash register and then take some bills out of the drawer. Although embezzlement might take place on a much larger scale, such as a company's accountant moving thousands or millions of dollars into their own bank account for personal use, the basic principle of misappropriating resources is the same. Even if a person only skims a small amount off a recurring transaction, this could amount to a significant loss to a company or organization over time, which is why state and federal governments take this white-collar crime seriously.
Someone who embezzles might get a third party involved to make the transfer of funds look more legitimate. For example, an employee might over-charge a vendor or client and then pocket the difference between that and what revenue they report to their employer. The vendor or client may not even realize that they have been overcharged. Fraudulent invoices and contracts are common in cases of embezzlement.
Embezzlement of Resources Other Than Cash
Importantly, embezzlement doesn't strictly have to involve money. An individual might misappropriate their employer's real estate, a company vehicle, or even computers and phones that are meant for work use only. These cases are harder to prove than when there has been a transfer of funds because the prosecution cannot always point to a paper trail identifying an employee's theft. However, it's still important for individuals accused of embezzlement to understand the scope of this criminal offense.
If your employer or someone else you had a fiduciary duty to is accusing you of embezzlement, a defense attorney may help you understand if the actions you took constituted misusing resources that were legally entrusted to you. If there is strong evidence that you participated in embezzlement, your criminal defense attorney might encourage you to negotiate a plea deal that lowers the charges and reduces the penalties.