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Embezzlement is one of the most common types of white collar crime committed on both a state and federal level. Both state and federal courts can prosecute embezzlement charges, and the type of court involved will vary depending on the circumstances. To be charged with embezzlement, you must have allegedly taken property or money from a financial entity you were responsible for. You must also have done this without permission.
There are criminal defense attorneys who specialize in defending people accused of white collar crime. They often see people accused of embezzlement when they are trusted with handling finances for a business, organization, or industry. The crime occurs when an individual is able to access the finances of another person, organization, or business. They are supposed to manage, monitor, or use the money responsibly to benefit the party who owns it. However, the control over the finances can cross into criminal territory.
You might be surprised by the number of different ways there are to embezzle money. Some of the most common are filing false records, fraudulently billing people, and engaging in “Ponzi” schemes. But even with all of these potential temptations, many innocent people are accused of embezzlement despite having done nothing wrong. Sometimes the person isn’t accused of embezzling money. They might be accused of stealing virtual documents, files, or trade secrets.
When it comes to the theft of trade secrets and virtual documents, some of the most likely people to be accused are employees, bank tellers, clerks, accountants, lawyers, supervisors, and company owners. Regardless of whether you’re charged through a state or federal court, embezzlement charges can be very serious. Depending on the degree of the crime, you may be looking at multiple years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
When embezzlement cases are prosecuted in federal court, they typically fit into one of four subtypes: bank fraud, securities fraud, wire fraud, or mail fraud. In addition, most states have specific embezzlement statutes encoded into their laws.
In federal court and in most state courts, embezzlement encompasses four key elements:
This all seems fairly straightforward, but a fiduciary relationship and position of trust needs to be defined. There are no specific definitions for these terms put down in federal criminal law. However, federal sentencing guidelines address them. According to these guidelines, the terms can be used to describe anyone who uses managerial or professional discretion in handling of money. The person will usually have a good deal of freedom with how they use the money they’re responsible for, and they will undergo less rigorous supervision than non-responsible parties.
There’s also an insider trading law that applies to embezzlement. One important thing to note is that “insiders” don’t have to work for the company in question when the company’s security is traded. To be an “insider,” all you need is insider knowledge that would affect securities trading but isn’t public knowledge. If you hear non-public information that would affect a company’s stock or securities value, you cannot use that information for financial gain. A person is considered to have a fiduciary duty as soon as they have insider information.
In terms of other outlined fraud crimes, a perpetrator can be any individual who has been entrusted with the money of another person. This doesn’t always have to be a corporate executive. It can be a toll collector, hotel clerk, or bank teller.
Many states have embezzlement statutes that have different criminal definitions. Federal law doesn’t have a specific embezzlement crime, so a person will be tried based on one of the four subtypes of embezzlement-related fraud. If you are convicted of bank, securities, wire, or mail fraud in federal court, the sentence could be up to twenty years in prison accompanied by a $250,000 fine.
Regardless of the stage of an embezzlement investigation, it’s vital that you get in contact with an attorney. Maybe you’ve been contacted by an agent looking for information. Maybe you’ve been arrested or had charges pressed against you. You should never talk to law enforcement without legal representation, especially if you haven’t done anything wrong. The police and federal agents are not on your side, and a skilled lawyer can help.
If you find yourself under investigation for embezzlement, expect it to be a whirlwind process. Since prosecutors take these charges seriously, you can expect to have every financial move you have made scrutinized by those hoping to find examples they can point to in order to prove the charges levied against you. In addition, embezzlement charges carry with them the possibility of severe legal penalties that include decades in prison, hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, and possibly restitution. But perhaps more than anything, being charged with embezzlement will do extensive harm to your reputation, automatically branding you in the minds of many as a person who cannot be trusted. If you are in the process of being investigated for embezzlement, here are some important tips you should keep in mind.
It Can Happen to Anybody
Due to embezzlement being the most common white-collar crime, many people think only those in high positions within major corporations face embezzlement investigations. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Whether you are a bank teller in a small local bank, treasurer of your child’s PTA, or perhaps a well-respected financial services professional in your community, embezzlement investigations can happen to anyone at anytime. Therefore, should you be paid a visit by a federal agent, served with a search warrant of your home, or actually arrested for the crime, always rely on the expert advice of skilled and knowledgeable defense attorneys who have experience handling such cases.
The Elements of Embezzlement
For investigators to charge you with embezzlement, they must be able to show the alleged crime had the four essential elements of embezzlement. These include you being in a position of trust with another party, acquiring money or property while in that position of trust, taking money or property solely for your own benefit, and doing so intentionally, meaning it was your conscious objective to take the money or property for your own benefit. While this may sound easy to prove, it is not. Since there is technically no specific crime of Embezzlement found in federal criminal law, prosecutors will instead rely on various statutes pertaining to bank, wire, mail, or securities fraud. Since it can be a complex process determining what did or did not violate a statute as well as whether any of the alleged acts were done on purpose, never assume you will automatically be found guilty. Instead, immediately after being put under investigation for embezzlement, hire an attorney skilled in handling these matters and protecting the rights of their clients.
As in any situation where you are charged with a federal crime, the penalties for embezzlement can be very severe. Once a case is put in the hands of a jury, you as the defendant can never be completely sure how the jury will rule on your case. Depending on the circumstances surrounding your case, you may be facing maximum sentences of 20 years in prison and a fine of as much as $250,000. Along with this, if the jury should determine your actions were egregious toward the victim, there may be restitution or punitive damages to be paid. This, coupled with the damage to your reputation and the emotional harm to your family, can be devastating. Rather than let investigators and prosecutors steamroll over you and intimidate you into doing or saying things that can harm your case and seal your legal fate, work with a trusted defense attorney who can carefully examine evidence and negotiate with prosecutors prior to your case making it to trial.
Always Have Your Lawyer Present
When you are charged with embezzlement or any type of crime, law enforcement agents and prosecutors always jump at the chance to question confused, scared, and bewildered suspects without an attorney being present. If you make this mistake, you will almost always make many incriminating statements, all of which will be used against you. In addition, you may be coerced into signing a confession or agreeing to a deal that will not be beneficial to your case. Therefore, even if investigators and prosecutors are pressing hard for you to explain yourself, never do so until you have your attorney by your side. By remembering this one important detail, you may save yourself and your family tremendous embarrassment, as well as keep yourself out of prison.
Though the allegations made against you in these cases can be staggering and potentially very severe, it does not mean you should start planning on a long stay in prison. From proving you were in a position of trust to having evidence you took money intentionally and for your benefit, prosecutors have a far tougher case ahead of them than they let on. Therefore, never hesitate to contact an experienced defense attorney once you are put under investigation for embezzlement.
Widely considered the most common white-collar crime, embezzlement is a charge that should never be taken lightly. Considered a federal crime, it can lead to severe penalties if convicted, including years in prison and large fines. But in addition to these penalties, those convicted or simply accused of the crime find their reputations can be ruined very quickly. Because of this, once a person is charged with embezzlement, it is crucial they hire skilled attorneys who understand these cases and know how to fight the charges in court. While many people assume stealing money or other assets is considered embezzlement, the fact is there are various elements to these charges that must be met to prove embezzlement did occur.
Position of Trust
First and foremost, the person charged with embezzlement must have served in a position of trust over another’s finances, whether it was another individual, company, or even a nonprofit organization. Whatever the case may be, embezzlement allegations can be levied against an individual if it is believed they committed fraudulent billing, filed false financial records, or created an elaborate Ponzi scheme. In fact, whether you are an entry-level bank teller, a corporate accountant, or a high-ranking company executive, you can be charged with embezzlement.
Acquiring Money While in Position of Trust
The second element of an embezzlement charge involves proving the accused acquired money while serving in a position of trust. This can be complex, since there is no actual crime of Embezzlement in Federal criminal law. In most situations, prosecutors will pursue charges under the terms of bank, mail, wire, and securities fraud statutes. Since each of these statutes is very complex and confusing at times, it can be very easy for an accused individual to have made honest mistakes along the way while in charge of another’s finances. Due to prosecutors pursuing these charges with the intent on gaining a conviction and having serious legal consequences imposed on the accused, always work closely with attorneys experienced in defending clients against these specific charges.
Taking Money for Your Benefit
To make an embezzlement charge stick, it must be proven that any money allegedly taken by the accused was done so solely for their own benefit and not for anyone else. While investigators and prosecutors will automatically assume this was the case, an experienced attorney who has handled these matters in the past may be able to prove otherwise. In some instances, even if it is proven money was taken from one party, it can also be shown the money in no way benefited the person who took the money. If this can be proven, it is likely prosecutors will be forced to reduce embezzlement charges or maybe drop them altogether.
Acting with Intention
Finally, the last element crucial to embezzlement charges involves proving the accused acted with intent, meaning they did so with the sole purpose of violating their position of trust and using any money obtained solely for their own benefit. Again, this is not always easy to prove. However, once you are accused, expect investigators and prosecutors to look at each and everything you have purchased during a period of time in an attempt to prove it was purchased with money you allegedly embezzled.
Penalties for Embezzlement
If you are charged with embezzlement, expect the penalties you may face to be very severe. Under Federal Sentencing guidelines, most sentences can be up to 20 years in prison and fines of as much as $250,000. Along with this, courts may often require you to pay restitution to victims, meaning you will be expected to pay back any money you were determined to have embezzled. When these cases are taken to court, prosecutors will often attempt to portray you as someone who cared little about others, and instead were interested only in embezzling funds to create a lavish lifestyle for yourself. Therefore, work with an experienced defense attorney who can protect your Constitutional rights and plan a vigorous legal defense on your behalf.
Your Life is Forever Changed
Whether or not you are actually convicted of embezzlement, your life will be forever changed. Once the allegations against you are made public, the level of trust you are able to establish with others will be severely limited. Thus, if you were working as an accountant, bank teller, cashier, or acting as the treasurer of a local organization, you may find it hard to obtain work in your chosen field. However, it is best to not give up hope in these matters. Although prosecutors will try to convince you they have an open-and-shut case against you, never assume this to be true. Instead, choose to give yourself a fighting chance by consulting with attorneys who understands the elements of embezzlement charges and know how to fight them in court.
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