Defending Embezzlement Cases

embezzlement-casesThe purpose of the article is to provide individuals accused of embezzlement with basic practical information including, charges, penalties and possible defenses. It has also been designed to give an overview for readers who are interested in the subject of embezzlement cases. It is not intended as a substitute for qualified legal counsel. It is not legal advice. For the purposes of this article other “white collar crimes” are excluded.


Embezzlement is the act of dishonestly appropriating or secreting assets, usually financial in nature; by one or more individuals to whom the assets have been entrusted, it is essentially a form of financial fraud or theft.
To be charged with embezzlement four elements must be proved. First the property must belong to someone other than the accused, such as an employer. Next, the property must be transferred in some way to the accused and the accused must attempt to conceal the crime. Third, the accused must be in a position of trust, such as a cashier, bank teller or accountant whose job descriptions involve the handling of assets or property as part of their job. All that is needed to prove breach of trust is that the property was handled in a manner inconsistent with the company policy. Finally the defendant must have intent to defraud the owner at the time the property is under their control. The action elements of embezzlement are the same as theft except that the element of taking is, in this situation one that the perpetrator is comfortable in; unlike theft there is no trespassing or force involved.

It is unusual for an embezzler to get caught in the act caught “red handed” but if suspected, the embezzler will be monitored visually or electronically. Usually discrepancies in accounting, cash drawer shortages or other indirect evidence are found and an audit by another employee or agency tracks the money back to the embezzler. It is a crime that can sometimes take years to be detected. However when the embezzler changes their lifestyle and spending habits it is often a tip off to other employees of criminal activity.

According to the Office of Justice Statistics, state sentences for embezzlement averaged 45 months in prisons for felonies, 6 months in a county jail for misdemeanors or 38 month of probation. Some states distinguish between embezzlement much like they do with theft which is on the basis of the value of the property stolen. Grand embezzlement involves property that is of a greater value and is punishable as a felony, while the petty embezzlement involves property of a lesser value and is punishable as a misdemeanor. However an embezzlement conviction may result in large fines, a prison sentence of up to 20 years or both, depending on the value of assets taken. Sentencing for embezzlement may take into account any prior convictions, attitude of the community towards crimes such as embezzlement and the degree of media attention of the case. Since the offense is defined differently in several jurisdictions, the punishment for embezzlement can vary. Generally, the penalty is a fine, imprisonment, or both.

The federal government oversees embezzlement charges for public agencies, banks, US courts, credit and insurance agencies, programs that receive federal monies and any federal property such as military bases. Federal penalties include fines that are not more than double the value of the money that was embezzled or to as high as one million dollars. Federal prison sentences range from about two years in prison up to 30 years in prison. If the amount embezzled does not exceed one thousand dollars fines are smaller imprisonment is not more than one year.

Another problem with an embezzlement charge concerns the Internal Revenue Service. If you embezzle money you have to report it as income on your taxes for the year it was taken. However, if the money is returned or repaid you can deduct it on your tax return. If you fail to report embezzled money as income it can result in the charge of tax evasion.

Defending embezzlement cases is possible but requires sufficient documentation from the accused. Comparing accounting discrepancies to personal bank statements can show no evidence of excess or unaccounted for monies in the defendants’ possession. Showing that there were other people who had access to funds can diminish the responsibility of the defendant. A defendant should be able to explain any gaps in accounts and miscalculations at the office clearly and straightforwardly. Submit awards for merit and service from your employer as background material for jurors to enhance credibility is also a good option.

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