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A closer look at embezzlement charges

Thanks to the nightly news, as well as popular television and film, there are certain white collar crimes with which people are naturally familiar from wire fraud and bribery to counterfeiting and identity theft.

While comprehension of the law at any level is always a good thing, the reality is that the information on white collar crime that can be gleaned from these sources is nevertheless limited. Indeed, your favorite crime drama would be considerably less interesting if it devoted ten minutes to breaking down the intricacies of a financial crime.

In recognition of this reality, today's post will take a closer look at one of the more common white collar crimes that is actually fairly easy to break down for the uninitiated: embezzlement.

What is embezzlement?

At its core, embezzlement is property theft. What distinguishes it from standard theft charges, however, is that the individual accused of taking money, property, etc. for their personal benefit was entrusted with its care. In other words, the individual was not granted ownership of the money or property, but rather legal access to it for the purpose of management and/or monitoring.

Is embezzlement a state crime or a federal crime?  

Embezzlement charges can be brought at either the state or the federal level. Typically, state laws are written in such a way to cover both theft by public officials, and private sector individuals employed by other persons or entities (i.e., accountants, attorneys, etc.).

Generally, federal law covers theft by government employees. However, it also covers theft of property owned by a private entity, but which the federal government has already technically purchased under the terms of a contract.

What exactly does federal law have to say about embezzlement?

There is actually a multitude of federal embezzlement laws, each of which outline a particular crime and associated penalties. While a complete listing of these laws is clearly beyond the scope of single blog post, some examples include:

  • Public money, property or records: Covers the theft of money, records, property or anything else of value from the federal government or one of its agencies
  • Accounting generally for public money: Covers the theft of public money by federal employees, agents or officers
  • Receiving unauthorized deposit of public money: Covers the receipt and possession of federal funds not otherwise owed to the individual  

Given the penalties for embezzlement under federal law can include up to ten years in prison, those who find themselves under investigation or facing charges should seriously consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible.

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