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Federal Embezzlement


Federal Embezzlement: An Overview for Lawyers

Embezzlement is a serious crime that can lead to harsh penalties under federal law. As lawyers, it’s important we understand the nuances of federal embezzlement charges so we can best advise our clients. In this article, I’ll provide an overview of key aspects of federal embezzlement laws and cases.

Federal vs. State Embezzlement Laws

In the U.S., both federal and state laws address embezzlement. States typically have laws prohibiting embezzlement that apply within their own jurisdictions. Meanwhile, federal embezzlement laws apply when:

  • The crime involves federal property, funds, or agencies
  • It impacts interstate commerce or uses systems like the U.S. mail
  • The amounts involved meet a federal monetary threshold
  • Other circumstances give rise to federal jurisdiction

So state and federal charges can sometimes overlap. Key federal embezzlement statutes include 18 U.S.C. § 641 (public money, property or records), 18 U.S.C. § 666 (theft from programs receiving federal funds), and 18 U.S.C. § 664 (theft from employee pension or welfare plans).

The FBI and other federal agencies often get involved in investigating complex or high-dollar embezzlement cases. Federal charges tend to be more severe, but the specific facts of each case determine which laws apply.

Penalties Under Federal Embezzlement Laws

The penalties for federal embezzlement depend on the specific statute involved as well as the details of each case. But potential consequences can include:

  • Up to 10 years in federal prison
  • Fines up to $250,000 for individuals or $500,000 for organizations
  • Restitution to repay the stolen funds
  • Forfeiture of assets obtained from the crime
  • Supervised release after prison time

Sentencing is influenced by the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and factors like the amount stolen and the defendant’s criminal history. Penalties can be harsher if the crime involves public corruption, theft from a vulnerable victim, or abuse of a position of trust.

Key Elements of Federal Embezzlement

To prove embezzlement under federal criminal law, prosecutors must establish several key elements:

  • Property: The defendant misappropriated money, assets, records, or other property.
  • Lawful possession: The property was owned by another person or entity, but the defendant had lawful access due to a position of employment, contract, or fiduciary duty.
  • Criminal intent: The defendant intended to deprive the rightful owner of the property or use it for an unauthorized purpose.
  • Conversion: The defendant wrongfully assumed ownership or control of the property through their actions.
  • Jurisdiction: The crime involves federal funds, agencies, programs, interstate commerce, or other circumstances establishing federal jurisdiction.

The absence of any one of these elements could potentially lead to acquittal or dismissal of charges. A skilled federal criminal defense lawyer can analyze the evidence and identify weaknesses in the government’s case.

Common Defenses in Federal Embezzlement Cases

Some possible defenses that may apply in federal embezzlement cases include:

  • Lack of criminal intent – The defendant did not act “willfully” due to mistake, accident, claim of right, or lack of knowledge.
  • Authorization – The owner consented to the transaction or use of funds.
  • Good faith – The defendant had a reasonable, good faith belief that they had authority over the property.
  • Coercion or duress – The defendant only acted under threat or pressure from another party.
  • Statute of limitations – Too much time elapsed between the crime and charges being filed.
  • Jurisdictional challenge – Questioning whether the case properly belongs in federal court.
  • Evidentiary challenges – Contesting the validity and admissibility of government’s evidence.
  • Mitigating factors – Presenting information at sentencing about circumstances such as mental health issues, addiction, or family obligations that may warrant leniency.

An experienced federal criminal defense lawyer can assess the evidence, identify potential defenses, and formulate the most advantageous strategy for achieving the best possible outcome for the client.

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