If you steal property or misappropriate money in your possession that belongs to another person or entity, it may be considered embezzlement. Embezzlement is frequently associated with employee theft and is considered a white-collar crime.
What Are the Components of Embezzlement?
Embezzlement is a criminal offense with two primary elements:
- Being in lawful possession of money or property and
- Unlawfully utilizing that money or property for personal gain
If you do these things, you commit an act of embezzlement.
Typically, when someone embezzles money or property, they do so with the intent of depriving the owner of their rights. The person ends up doing one or more of the following:
- Using the money or property
- Selling the money or property
- Giving someone else possession of the money or property
- Damaging the property
- Having no intention of returning the money or property to the owner
How Is Embezzlement Proven?
In order for a prosecutor to prove you committed embezzlement, the prosecutor must establish:
- That the owner of property or money (or something else of value to the owner) gave you some kind of control over the property or money
- That the owner gave you control over the property or money for the owner’s benefit
- That you took the money or property for your own personal use (you misappropriated the money or property)
- That you do not have any legal ownership of (or a title to) the money or property
If you did not do these things, or if a prosecutor cannot establish you did them, you cannot be found guilty of embezzlement.
Examples of Embezzlement
What is considered embezzlement? Many people get confused about what constitutes embezzlement and what does not, since in all cases, the person in question has permission to handle the asset.
The following are examples of actions that may be considered embezzlement:
- Accessing customers’ accounts and moving the funds into a personal account
- Overbilling customers and keeping the extra cash
- Taking small or large amounts of money from a cash register
- Adding non-existent purchases to an expense account and taking the funds
- Siphoning donations and fundraiser money for personal gain
- Receiving a bribe
- Committing timesheet fraud to receive more weekly or monthly income
- Creating and adding non-existent employees to payroll
- Taking office supplies or property without permission
- Taking another person’s Social Security check
- Starting a Ponzi or kiting scheme
These are not the only actions that may be considered embezzlement. If you have questions about how specific actions not listed here relate to embezzlement, you may want to consult a criminal defense lawyer.
The Penalties of Embezzlement
A conviction for embezzlement may result in a fine, jail time, or restitution. Generally, the penalties depend on the details of the case, the amount embezzled, and state laws.
In Pennsylvania, embezzlement is charged under Chapter 39 of Pennsylvania Crimes and Offenses which outlines the criminal laws for theft and related offenses. Title 18 defines “theft by deception” which is a common embezzlement charge in Pennsylvania. This charge deals with embezzlement actions that create a false impression or conceal information in transactions.
The severity of embezzlement penalties in Pennsylvania may be based on the value of what was embezzled:
- Over $2,000: Felony of the third degree
- Over $100,000: Felony of the second degree
- Over $500,000: Felony of the first degree
An Embezzlement Conviction Can Be Even More Serious
In an embezzlement case, if a judge sentences a defendant, the judge might consider the defendant’s prior criminal record if there is one. Additionally, the judge may consider aggravating factors. For example, if the victim of the crime was elderly, disabled, a military serviceperson, or the spouse of a military serviceperson, the judge may make the penalties more severe.
When the victim of an embezzlement crime is a person in a protected class, like a disabled or elderly person, the defendant could be charged with a serious felony. However, a lawyer may be able to get these charges reduced or even dropped.
Additionally, it is important to note that embezzlement can be a federal crime if the assets or monies in question belonged to the government. Federal embezzlement penalties could include fines, paying back the money that was embezzled, and jail time. A lawyer from our firm can advocate on your behalf for the smallest possible sentence.
How Does a Lawyer Defend a Client From an Embezzlement Charge?
If a lawyer can present a strong legal defense at a criminal trial, a client’s embezzlement charge may be dropped and the entire case may be dismissed. Some common legal defenses are:
- Establishing that the defendant reasonably believed that they were the true owner of the property or money in question
- Explaining that the defendant acted under duress because another party threatened the defendant with serious harm or death if the defendant did not commit the crime
- Establishing that the defendant did not have an intent to commit embezzlement or any other theft crime at the time of the alleged misappropriation
- Showing that in the investigation, your rights were violated (such as your Fourth Amendment right which protects you against unlawful searches and seizures)
- Showing that law enforcement unlawfully coerced or duressed the defendant into entrapment
Your lawyer may use one of those defenses in your case. If you believe you require a different defense, you can discuss the matter with a lawyer during a consultation.
Certain Defenses Are Ineffective in Court
If the defendant intended to return the embezzled property, this may not be an effective defense. If the property isn’t returned before the case goes to a judge or jury, the defense won’t be effective.
Seeking Representation If You Have Been Accused of Embezzlement
You may want to seek advice from a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible to learn what is considered embezzlement and what your options may be.
An embezzlement charge can be detrimental to your life and even affect a few of your civil liberties. If convicted of embezzlement, you may spend years in prison and struggle to find employment in the future.
If you may be or have been charged with employer embezzlement, a lawyer can evaluate financial documents, online records, and conversations to build a strong case in your defense. If there’s a misunderstanding, like a misinterpretation about funds, the lawyer can explain it to a court.
Seek Representation From Our Firm
McKenzie Law Firm, P.C. defends people charged with embezzlement. If you hire us to represent you, we will investigate your case for evidence against your charges. We may be able to defend your case on the premise that the embezzlement was not intentional and was the result of a mistake. There may be other defenses in your case that could lead to your charges being dropped or reduced.
David McKenzie is a former criminal prosecutor who now defends people facing criminal charges. He defends clients against both state and federal charges. Depending on the details of your case, we may be able to keep you out of jail and have your fines lowered.
Contact McKenzie Law Firm, P.C. Today
If you live in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, or a nearby area and have been accused of embezzlement, call right now to speak to a member of our team. We offer prospective clients a free, no-obligation consultation.
Once we take the case, you will have access to your lawyer throughout your case via email, text, social media, and phone. Call us today to get started.