When you hear the word "embezzlement," you may think only of million-dollar cases of large corporation white-collar crime. However, the truth is that embezzlement is a crime that encompasses a wide range of financial misdeeds in terms of business, and not only involves large corporations, but also touches small businesses.
Whether you own your own business or work for a large or small company, you should understand the crime of embezzlement to protect yourself from committing misdeeds that could be considered criminal. Understanding embezzlement and how it differs from other white-collar crimes can be helpful, especially if you face accusations of committing this crime.
What is embezzlement?
Generally speaking, embezzlement is when you misappropriate funds that do not belong to you but were entrusted to your care. A typical example is if you handle money for the company that you work for. The relationship of trust, or fiduciary relationship, is an important aspect. The breach of that trust is a part of what constitutes this fraud, which can be prosecuted as a civil fraud or a criminal fraud. Some examples of embezzlement are clear-cut, such as when an employee pockets money from the cash register or a bank teller skims cash from deposits and takes it for his or her own use. Sometimes, the operations are much more complicated, such as accounting fraud specifically designed to hide or disguise stolen money.
What penalties does embezzlement carry?
The penalties for embezzlement depend on many different factors, including the amount of the funds embezzled. For example, in California, embezzlement laws state that embezzlement of property worth $950 or less is considered petty theft, while fraud involving amounts of more than $950 is grand theft. However, there are many particulars of the law that you should understand, especially if you are charged with embezzlement. Crimes divide into felonies and misdemeanors, and these distinctions are important in terms of the possible penalties. Petty theft may carry a fine as well as a possible jail term of six months or fewer, but more severe charges can lead to more severe consequences.
The importance of a qualified criminal defense attorney cannot be overstated. Do not take risks if you are being accused of embezzlement. Consult with a criminal defense attorney to understand your options and how to plan for a strategic legal defense.