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What is an Embezzlement Charge?

By Ken Black
Updated May 17, 2024
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An embezzlement charge is a criminal accusation that a person has misappropriated or misused funds that were meant for another purpose, with the intent of depriving the owner of those funds or resources. It typically is a term applied to white collar crimes, but may also be applied to other situations. The crime may be considered a misdemeanor or felony. The classification of an embezzlement charge typically depends on the amount of money involved, and the thresholds of the local jurisdiction.

Often, at least in the United States, the federal government uses the term embezzlement as a way of differentiating charges of theft at the state level. A federal embezzlement charge may be warranted in cases where the crime covers multiple states, and thus falls under the federal government's constitutionally-mandated charge to regulate interstate commerce. Often, embezzlement may be charged at both the federal and state level, if both governing bodies believe the charge is warranted.

Typically, the person facing an embezzlement charge has a pre-existing relationship with the company or entity from which money or resources are stolen. For example, a city clerk in a town may not decide to deposit or log all of the cash receipts collected. In such cases, the clerk may pick and choose which payments to keep, and which to deposit, usually choosing to misappropriate only those that have the lowest ability to be tracked.

In other cases, an embezzlement charge may result when a person has no pre-existing relationship with a company or entity, or at least not a close relationship. For example, a person may purport to be an agent of a company, and attempt to withdraw funds from a company's account. If that happens, the charge of embezzlement may also be coupled with a forgery charge, or some other types of criminal charges.

If a person is found guilty of an embezzlement charge, there are a number of resolutions the judge may impose. First, the judge will often impose a prison sentence, or at least suspended prison sentence with prison time served. Second, the judge will typically order restitution to the victim in the amount of money stolen. The defendant may also need to pay interest. Third, the defendant may also need to spend a period of time in supervised release after the prison sentence.

Although an embezzlement charge is not a violent crime, it has taken on prominence in the wake of financial scandals at large companies. The victims of embezzlement often must spend years rebuilding the investment that was lost, in addition to training new employees and coming up with new safeguards. The impact of the action may go well beyond just the monetary value of those things that were stolen.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon924136 — On Jan 02, 2014

About two months ago, I found out that a friend of mine was being investigated for embezzlement while she was the treasurer for a volunteer fire department. The sheriff's department. in her county came with a search warrant and confiscated her personal phone, laptop and several financial statements. They recently contacted her and told her that the county is done with her personal items however, the state and FBI now have them and are doing their own investigation.

If this is done on the county level, why would the state and FBI do a separate investigation?

By anon348411 — On Sep 16, 2013

@anon325505: I'm no legal expert, but I have some concerns about your relatives' legal actions and your personal liability. You say you repaid every cent of the +/- $180,000 your late husband embezzled. Repaid to who? If your money went back into the original farm corporation's account, then I can't see where your relatives could file a lawsuit directly against you. It would either be against his estate or the farm corporation, assuming it still exists. You have clearly made financial restitution, even though the criminality remains with your late husband.

Do these relatives have a professional association with the family farm corporation? It seems like they could file a claim with the corporation directly and receive any legal settlements through it. You might still face legal claims as an officer of that corporation, but I can't see where you could be sued as a private citizen for actions taken by others.

You trusted him enough to sign blank checks, but you were acting under good faith. It would be a different case if your relatives had proof you knew he was writing improper checks and helped him get away with it, but your repayment of those debts should help your defense if a lawsuit is ever actually filed.

By anon325505 — On Mar 16, 2013

Prior to his death my husband embezzled nearly $180,000 dollars from my family's farm corporation. I was treasurer of the corporation and had the corporation checkbook in my possession. My husband would pick up the mail before I got home every day. He would then tell me what was due for bills for the corporation. To "be nice," he would have me sign checks and he would make out the rest of the check and mail it. Hah! What he was doing is making checks out to himself or paying personal bills with them.

After his sudden death, I found three months' worth of canceled checks hidden in his truck. I was appalled. I found that he had been doing this for years and giving our accountant believable check information.

Fortunately, I was in a financial position to repay every penny that he took. My estranged nieces and nephew hired a lawyer who is now seeking a settlement amount. I admitted wrong doing on my husband's part and repaid what was owed. Do they have a case against me?

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