Embezzlement is defined as wrongfully appropriating funds that were entrusted to a person but owned by another person, business or organization. It is widely known as employee theft, but this crime can also cover other individuals who hold a position of trust within an organization, such as a charity or government authority.
Four elements must be proven in an embezzlement prosecution. First, the parties must have a fiduciary relationship and one party must rely on the other. The fiduciary relationship usually involves the defendant taking care of money, property or another asset for the other party.
Next, the defendant must have acquired the property through this relationship. This is often difficult to prove when cash is involved. Third, the defendant must have taken ownership of the property or transferred it to someone else. Finally, it must be shown that the defendant acted intentionally.
Common examples of embezzlement include a bank teller who keeps deposits, a bookkeeper who takes customer refunds, an attorney using funds from a client's escrow account and a payroll officer who keeps funds that were intended for deposit as employment tax. Retail employees may be accused of taking merchandise, known as shrinkage, or keeping gift cards.
The criminal penalties depend on the amount that was stolen. Penalties may include fines, restitution or even a prison sentence. The employer or other victim may also file a lawsuit against the alleged embezzler.
In addition, charges of embezzlement can cause grievous harm to a person's reputation and career. An attorney should be consulted immediately to defend against these accusations.