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Embezzlement is a theft crime that involves taking money or property when the individual is in a position to have access to the money or property. Embezzlement is considered a white-collar crime, and it is taken very seriously by prosecutors and defended by criminal attorneys. Depending on the specific facts involved, embezzlement can be charged as a state crime or as a federal offense. The penalties for embezzlement can depend on the value of money or property taken.
Embezzlement usually involves a person's job that gives them access to someone else's money or property. This could include an accountant who handles an employer's money, a bartender who has access to the cash drawer, or a lawyer who is holding property for a client. It could even involve an individual taking care of a family member, while secretly taking property or money. Embezzlement is different from regular “theft” because the individual is in a position to have legitimate access to the property. With common theft, the thief never has legitimate access to the property before they steal it.
There are a number of reasons why people make the decision to take money or property for their own benefit. In many cases, it begins when the individual gets into some financial trouble. They may need money to pay for basic services, including bills, rent, or medical bills. They may also face increasing debts for living beyond their means. In some cases, they may owe money for illegal activities, such as illegal gambling debts or related to a drug addiction.
When people get desperate for money to avoid financial hardship, they may begin by simply “borrowing” the money from another person, company, or their employer, with the intention of paying it back. They may even pay back the “borrowed” money, only to later take more money for similar reasons. However, if their debts continue to mount, or they are unable to pay back the money, they may decide to try and cover their tracks.
Others decide to take money or property because they feel like their employer is not fairly compensating them for their work, or is unfairly paying others more money. The employee may justify taking money to offset what they see as a gap in what they are paid, and what they should be paid. Some people may even have a legitimate claim to be paid more money. However, instead of going through the legal channels to fight for fair wages, taking this issue into your own hands can lead to a criminal conviction and jail time.
In many embezzlement cases, an individual begins converting small amounts of money for their personal use. However, as time goes on, if the embezzlement is not discovered, the individual may increase the amount of money they take. It can start small, and quickly grow to the point where the individual would never be able to repay the amount taken. In large-scale embezzlement cases, an individual can end up taking millions of dollars worth of funds over a period of a decade or more.
One of the problems with the scale of embezzlement is that it can be difficult to detect. Embezzlement of small amounts of money may be difficult for law enforcement, employers, or the owners of the property to detect. This can result in large amounts of money being taken over a long period of time.
In other cases, the individual charged with embezzlement can be in a profession where they know how to obscure the theft. Accountants and financial professionals understand how to move money around, transfer funds, create false accounts, and make a convincing paper trail to hide the theft for years to come. It may take a full-scale and in-depth audit to discover that embezzlement has been going on, after millions of dollars have already been taken and hidden, or spent.
Once embezzlement is detected or suspected, an employer may begin with an internal investigation. State and local police, prosecutors, and federal agents can also get involved in embezzlement investigations. As soon as you become aware of an investigation into alleged embezzlement, you should contact an experienced Arizona embezzlement criminal defense attorney.
Under Arizona law, embezzlement falls under the theft statute. The level of crime depends on the value of the theft involved. Theft of property or services with a value of $25,000 or more is a class 2 felony. Theft of $4,000 or more, but less than $25,000 or more is a class 3 felony. Theft of $3,000 or more, but less than $4,000 or more is a class 4 felony. Theft of $2,000 or more, but less than $3,000 or more is a class 5 felony. Theft of $1,000 or more, but less than $2,000 or more is a class 6 felony. Theft of property or services with a value of less than $1,000 is a class 1 misdemeanor.
Embezzlement can also be a federal crime if it involves any property of the United States, federal government contracts, involves theft across state lines, or securities fraud. There are specific federal laws that apply to embezzlement by bank employees, embezzlement from employee benefit plans, and embezzlement in connection with health care. Federal prosecutors take embezzlement very seriously, leaving the defendant to face charges in a federal court, with the penalties served in a federal penitentiary.
In addition to facing criminal theft charges, embezzlement can lead to additional penalties. The Arizona Department of Revenue and the IRS may investigate embezzlement cases, to go after the individual for tax fraud and unpaid taxes. Additionally, individuals who were the victims of alleged theft or embezzlement can go after the defendant for civil penalties, to recover money or property taken from them.
At West, Longenbaugh and Zickerman, our attorneys are here to help individuals and families throughout Southern Arizona. We will work with you and advise you on your options for fighting criminal embezzlement charges in state or federal court. Our team of lawyers is committed to addressing the individual needs of each of our clients will fight to keep you out of jail, and keep your criminal record clear with big firm representation and small firm caring.