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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.