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The unique nature of federal embezzlement charges

On Behalf of | Apr 8, 2022 | Criminal Defense

With any allegation of white-collar crime, communication and understanding will be key to the outcome of your case. Accusations, not just a conviction, can have a profound impact on your business, your career and the lives of your family. Embezzlement is a peculiar type of crime and understanding it will be necessary for the decisions you make.

It’s a crime of theft, but more than that

Every theft crime involves the appropriation of something which doesn’t belong to the person who appropriates it. But with a federal allegation of embezzlement, there are some key differences which won’t be found in run-of-the-mill theft cases.

For one thing, there must be a fiduciary relationship between the person accused of embezzlement and the thing they are accused of embezzling. This is why embezzlement charges so often arise in a business or employment context. Unlike a standard charge of theft, the accused in an embezzlement case has a right to exercise some authority over the property in question. Typically, the nature of their position requires them to control and manage that property in some way – for example, the financial officer of a business being accused of embezzling funds for which they had oversight.

Another difference, but related to the fiduciary relationship, is the intent required. Most theft crimes require that the accused has the intent to deprive the owner of the property at the time they take it. Because of the unique relationship between the accused and the property in embezzlement cases, this is often not the case. Instead, the accused is rightfully in possession or control of the property, regardless of their initial intent. It is only later, when the property is appropriated in a manner which is beyond the scope of their authority, that their intent becomes relevant. It is at this later point when the accused must intend to deprive the owner of possession. In the absence of either the fiduciary relationship or the required intent, an allegation of embezzlement will fail.