Embezzlement is a word one hears in the news about large companies and politicians. However, it is not only crime of high finance or corporate theft—it can happen anywhere. Have you served as a president or treasurer for a club or organization? If you have, you likely have had access to the bank accounts for the group. Or, perhaps you have held a job where you have had to handle money, and make deposits, and pay bills for the business. It is in these kinds of scenarios where embezzlement can and often does, occur.
What is Embezzlement?
Embezzlement is a serious kind of property theft that harkens back to when someone who is managing funds for another steals money or property for his or her own gain. The key to an embezzlement determination is that the defendant legally accessed the other’s money or property and possessed it as his or her own, but had no legal ownership to it. We all know that when someone takes someone else’s money or property, it is theft but embezzlement occurs when there the perpetrator was in a special position of trust such a club treasurer or other officer.
In Arizona, many of these types of crimes would fall under the Fraudulent Schemes and Artifices statute A.R.S. §13-2310. A charge of Fraud, Schemes can also arise in situations in which a person commits theft in a more organized and planned way. The potential circumstances for charges are endless. Consider these situations–from a caregiver for an elderly person who is tasked with purchasing groceries or personal items, to a worker in a small business, from a company taking advantage of an individual to a professional such as a board member, it can happen anywhere, at any level of value and to anyone. In many cases, when people in these positions of trust run into personal financial trouble, they succumb to the temptation of a way out by “borrowing” funds with the intention of returning the money before it is noticed to be missing. A snowball effect leads to them digging themselves deeper and deeper in debt, and soon enough, the loss has become a large hole that they cannot fill. Representation for a charge of this kind can mean the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor, or the difference between fines and jail time. It is typical for these charges to be brought but it is also common for theft charges to also be levied relative to the actual items or cash stolen.
Of course, there are also federal charges that one could face. Like the Arizona statute, the parameters of the crimes are when a trusted person associated with a business or organization misappropriates money or items for their own financial benefit. As far as whether these charges will be brought at a state or federal level depends on the jurisdiction of the crime.
Here are some of the specific elements that point toward a federal charge prosecution:
- If the crime occurred on federal land or involved a federal agent.
- If the crime involved the defendant crossing state lines.
- If the criminal conduct crossed state lines.
- If immigration or customs violations were involved.
How an Embezzlement Charge is Proven
If a crime is being prosecuted, there are four key areas that must be proven for a conviction:
- The defendant must have an established relationship acting as a fiduciary for the victim.
- This relationship must have permitted the accused access to and possession of the property that was
- The defendant must be proven to have illegally assumed rights to the misappropriated property.
- It must be proven that the accused acted willfully and intentional to assume possession of the property.
Both Embezzlement and, Fraudulent Schemes and Artifice are statutory crimes which allow the court to rule on a sentence that can match the magnitude of the crime. Typically, the sentences for federal charges are longer, and regardless of whether state or federal, because these crimes can bring a felony charge, they are serious. You should seek the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you fight these penalties. Statutory law governs the penalties and consequences but an experienced lawyer can offer help in forming a plan in approaching your charges. You may be able to avoid criminal punishment by paying back the money along with court fees and other costs.