Embezzlement is often the subject of big, splashy news stories or the focus of dramatic movies, but many do not fully understand what this offense entails. It is a form of white-collar crime where people misappropriate assets that they are responsible for.
Charges of embezzlement can come from bookkeeping mistakes, genuine errors or oversight, but to prove that embezzlement has occurred, there are generally four main elements that must be present.
1. A fiduciary relationship
There must have been a fiduciary relationship between the two parties involved. The plaintiff must have entrusted assets to the care of the defendant.
2. Manner of possession
The defendant must have taken possession of the property, assets or funds through that relationship rather than another manner.
3. Fraudulent conversion
The defendant must have dealt with the property in a fraudulent manner to appropriate it for his or her own use or passed it on to the possession of another.
The defendant must have acted with the intention of depriving the owner of the property. If the prosecutor cannot provide proof of intent to defraud, a judge may not issue a conviction.
Embezzlement can be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the total value of the assets lost. If the assets involved are public funds or the property of the government it may constitute a federal crime. Someone who learns of an investigation may be able to take action before there are any charges.
Often, people facing charges are able to avoid conviction or receive a lesser conviction by taking a plea deal.