What is embezzlement?

There are many forms of theft crimes, ranging from pickpocketing and shoplifting to burglary and grand larceny. One thing these crimes have in common is an element of trespass. They all involve someone taking something that belongs to someone else, without that other party’s permission.

Embezzlement defined

Embezzlement is a different type of theft crime. It involves the owner of property (usually money) entrusting that property to someone else. The elements of embezzlement are:

  • A person lawfully possesses property belonging to another party due to a fiduciary relationship between the parties
  • The person converts or takes that property for their own use; and
  • Has no intention of giving it back

Embezzlement is a white-collar crime, because most of the time, people accused of it are professionals like accountants, financial advisors and executives — people who have access to bank accounts and credit cards belonging to their employers or clients. Instead of managing the money in the other party’s best interests, an embezzler uses the money for their own purposes. Examples include spending the money to pay credit card bills or gambling debts, or to fund vacations, clothing purchases and expensive meals.

Besides spending money, other forms of conversion for purposes of embezzlement include selling, using up an asset, intentionally damaging it, or refusing to return an asset to its owner.

Embezzlement is a federal crime punishable by up to ten years in prison, if the total value of the converted property is more than $1,000. For alleged embezzlement of $1,000 or less, the maximum federal prison term is one year. It is also a crime in California law. The convicted person will likely be required to make restitution to the victim, if possible.

Never hesitate to fight for your rights

There are ways to defend yourself from embezzlement charges so that you avoid an unjust conviction. To find out what you can do about embezzlement charges against you, contact a criminal defense attorney. Don’t wait until you have been arrested or charged; once you learn you are under investigation, a defense lawyer can help you preserve your rights.