It is unlawful for a public official to help, abet, aid, or attempt to commit a crime in connection with their role. Public officials include elected officials, appointed officials, public agency members, and other state or federal employees acting under official rights.

Kinds of corruption crimes include:

  • Embezzlement of public funds
  • Theft from the state
  • Accepting bribes as a public official

What Is Embezzlement?

The term embezzlement refers to a type of white-collar crime. It happens when a person is tasked to handle the finances of another individual or business and illegally takes those funds for their personal use. Embezzlement is most common in situations involving employees accessing their employer’s checks, cash, or bank account(s). An example of this would be an accountant or bookkeeper illegally writing a check to themselves, pocketing cash, or removing money from business bank accounts.

Whether embezzlement is considered a misdemeanor or a felony depends on the amount of money embezzled. Further, states may differ regarding what constitutes a felony or misdemeanor embezzlement. Embezzlement can also be considered a criminal conversion. As it is a crime against ownership, the action of embezzling infringes the right of the owner to control the use of the property entrusted to the embezzler.

State statutes generally include tangible and intangible property and do not typically include real property. Real estate embezzlement often happens when a real estate agent embezzles funds from their clients or funds from the real estate company in which they work.

What Are the Consequences of a Conviction for Embezzlement?

The consequences of an embezzlement conviction will vary based on whether the crime was a misdemeanor or a felony. As previously discussed, embezzlement is classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony based on the amount of cash stolen from the owner (or principal).

Consequences will also vary from state to state and miscellaneous other factors related to each specific case.

Many people often ask whether they will go to jail for embezzlement.

Judges will consider the following when imposing a sentence:

  • The amount of money embezzled;
  • The period over which the embezzlement happened;
  • The financial harm caused to the victim of the embezzlement;
  • Whether the defendant intended to steal from the plaintiff; and
  • Any previous embezzlement or financial offense convictions.

Felony embezzlement convictions are, of course, typically more intense and could include jail time. Such punishments could include:

  • Extensive jail or prison time;
  • Probation, or parole;
  • Significant fines or restitution to the victim;
  • Court-ordered rehabilitation courses or programs;
  • Being ineligible to hold a public or elected office;
  • Having professional licenses, such as an accountant certification, revoked; or
  • Permanent documentation of the conviction on their criminal record, negatively impacting their future employment prospects.

Is Embezzlement a Federal Crime?

Embezzlement may be charged as a federal crime, relying on the facts of the case. Generally, embezzlement is only a federal crime if it involves embezzling federal money or property. The most common individuals charged with the federal crime of embezzlement are government workers or elected officials embezzling public funds.

What Are the Common Defenses to Embezzlement Charges?

Again, available defenses to embezzlement charges will hinge on each case’s specifics. The most common defense is that the embezzler did not plan to steal the other party’s money and may be used when the defendant:

  • Intended to return the money;
  • Was ignorant that they took any money in the first place; or
  • They never intended to take the money for their gain.

Under this defense, the defendant could argue that they:

  • Withdrew the money from the account accidentally;
  • Were obeying the directions of the owner; or
  • Did so as requested by the other party.

As a fiduciary relationship must exist for the crime to be deemed embezzlement, the defendant may claim no such relationship existed.

There are several other more general defenses that they may utilize, including but not limited to:

  • Insufficient evidence;
  • Duress;
  • Entrapment; and
  • Incapacity.

What Is Criminal Law? How Does Criminal Law Work?

Civil law addresses behavior that causes some injury to a person or other private party through lawsuits. The punishments for any parties liable for these acts are generally monetary. Nevertheless, penalties can also include court-ordered remedies, such as injunctions or restraining orders.

Alternatively, criminal law is designed to address behavior considered an offense against society, the state, or the public. If someone is convicted of a crime, they may be forced to pay fines and lose their freedom by being sentenced to jail or prison time.

Whether someone is being charged with a severe crime or a minor one, the accused individual still has the right to a trial and certain other legal protections. Further, whether the accused is charged in federal court or a state court largely depends on what crime they are being charged with and where the alleged offense occurred.

What Is White Collar Crime?

The term “white-collar crime” refers to nonviolent crimes typically perpetrated for financial gain. According to the FBI, “these crimes are characterized by deceit, concealment, or violation of trust.” These crimes are typically motivated by either gaining money or avoiding losing money, property, or services. Nevertheless, they may also be motivated by a need to secure a personal or business benefit.

The term itself is defined as a “crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of their occupation.” White-collar workers have historically been defined by office jobs and management, while blue-collar workers traditionally wore blue shirts while working in more physically demanding jobs.

White-collar crimes have grown exponentially as new technology, and financial products have created new means of committing such crimes. Additionally, the internet facilitates multiple new white-collar crimes, such as fraudulent emails requesting help by sending a substantial amount of money.

Some definitions of white-collar crime only include offenses by an individual to benefit themselves. However, the FBI defines these crimes as “large-scale fraud perpetrated by many throughout a corporate or government institution.” The agency names corporate crime among its highest enforcement priorities because these crimes cause substantial financial losses to investors. Additionally, the FBI states that these offenses have the potential to cause significant harm to the U.S. economy, as well as investor confidence.

What Penalties Can a Public Official Face?

If a public official is bound to be corrupt, they can be punished in many ways. The regulations vary from state to state, but common forms of punishment include:

  • Termination
  • Imprisonment
  • Fines
  • Loss of pay or benefits
  • Loss of retirement benefits

Several elements may enhance the punishment for accepting a bribe as a public official. If the official works in customs or border patrol or issues identification or immigration documents, they may receive an enhanced penalty. This is in response to the increased security of our borders brought on by the threat of terrorism.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Suppose you have been charged with bribery or any other form of corruption. In that case, a criminal defense attorney can advise you of your legal rights and defenses and guide you through the complicated legal process. Use LegalMatch to find the right lawyer for your criminal defense needs today. There is no fee to schedule a consultation with an experienced lawyer near you.