Embezzlement occurs when a person entrusts their property to another person, but the person in possession then unlawfully converts the ownership rights with the intent to defraud the true owner. Poor or improper accounting is one of the main factors in most embezzlement cases. An example of embezzlement is where an employee is entrusted with a certain amount of company money. The person then has lawful possession of the funds; however, if they put the money into a different account for their own personal use, it can be considered embezzlement.

What Is the Difference Between Embezzlement and Theft?

The main distinction between embezzlement and larceny (theft) is that with embezzlement, the defendant is authorized to have physical possession of the property. With larceny, the defendant obtains physical possession of the property through illegal means, for example by physically taking the property without the owner’s consent. With embezzlement, the defendant is granted lawful possession of property, but the criminal act occurs with regards to the title and ownership rights.

Embezzlement is often committed by persons in positions of trust who are granted lawful possession of funds or property. This may include persons such as brokers, trustees, employees, and public officials. The embezzler need not benefit themselves in order to be found guilty of embezzlement.

What Is Felony Embezzlement? 

Felony embezzlement is a type of white collar crime involving the unlawful conversion of ownership rights of property or assets. Embezzlement is usually a misdemeanor charge; however, it can result in felony charges depending on the value of the goods that were converted.

When Does Embezzlement Become a Felony?

Embezzlement becomes a felony charge based on the value of the assets or funds that are appropriated from the true owner. Each state may have different requirements for felony embezzlement. However, many state laws classify embezzlement crimes into tiers based on the amount that is stolen.

A typical state statute might classify embezzlement as follows:

  • Embezzlement of less than $2,500: Misdemeanor charge
  • Embezzlement of $2,500-$5,000: Class I Felony
  • Embezzlement of $5,000-$10,000: Class H Felony
  • Embezzlement of amounts greater than $10,000: Class G Felony

What Are the Legal Consequences for Felony Embezzlement?

The severity of the felony charge will depend on the amount that was stolen. The greater the amount, the more serious the charges will be. Also, a defendant may be subject to enhanced penalties for repeat offenses or for offenses involving additional crimes in conjunction with embezzlement, such as tax fraud or other white collar crimes.

In general, misdemeanor embezzlement will result in a small monetary fine and a maximum jail sentence of one year. In comparison, felony misdemeanor charges might result in higher fines and a prison sentence of more than one year.

In the example statute listed above, a Class I Felony Embezzlement charge may result in a fine of $1,000 and a prison sentence of 1-3 years. A more serious charge such as a Class G felony charge might result in a fine of $5,000 and a prison sentence of 5 years. Again, such classifications and penalties will vary from state to state.

Finally, in most embezzlement cases, the defendant may be required to reimburse the victim for the amount that was embezzled, in addition to any criminal fines that may have been imposed. It is also common for the property owner to file a private civil lawsuit against the embezzler.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Felony Embezzlement Charges?

Felony embezzlement is a serious criminal charge and can result in severe penalties for the offender. As in all criminal cases, you have the right to an criminal defense attorney, who can help determine if you have any appropriate defenses to embezzlement. Or, if you suspect that you have been the victim of embezzlement, an attorney can help you file a lawsuit in court so that you can recover your losses.