Embezzlement is a form of theft, or, in legal terms, “larceny.” However, it is not the same as outright stealing someone’s property. Embezzling specifically involves money that was entrusted to someone, who then took it for themselves. When you hear stories about a celebrity’s personal manager stealing large chunks of money, that is embezzling. Since it involves lying about the money’s use, it is technically a form of fraud.
Embezzling is a serious offense. Depending on the amount of money someone allegedly took, the penalties rise. For smaller sums of money, embezzling is charged as a misdemeanor. It quickly rises to the level of a felony as the sum increases.
- $500 or less = Charged as a Class A misdemeanor, the highest in Tennessee. Penalized by up to 11 months of incarceration. Fined up to $2,500.
- Between $500 and $1,000 = Charged as a Class E felony. Penalized by up to six years of incarceration. Fined up to $3,000.
- Between $1,000 and $10,000 = Charged as a Class D felony. Penalized by up to 12 years of incarceration. Fined up to $5,000.
- Between $10,000 and $60,000 = Charged as a Class C felony. Penalized by up to 15 years of incarceration. Fined up to $10,000.
- Between $60,000 and $250,000 = Charged as a Class B felony. Penalized by up to 15 years of incarceration. Fined up to $25,000.
Interestingly, state law dictates that someone cannot serve more than 30 years for the crime or be fined more than $1,000,000. Although this sentence is not directly listed in the ones outlined above, its inclusion indicates that you could spend more than 15 years in prison and pay fines higher than $25,000.
Defenses Against Embezzling
You should always follow your attorney’s lead in any defense. However, arming yourself with information will help, and it will give you the chance to work alongside your attorneys, offering suggestions as you go. For these reasons, you should learn about common defenses against an embezzlement charge. Here are some examples.
Challenging the Evidence
As with any legal case, it is advantageous to attack the validity of the claim itself. Unlike direct robbery, embezzlement is complicated. Perpetrators often use complicated means to hide their actions and retrace their steps. As a result, the accusation itself is equally complicated. With deft financial experience, you may be able to prove that your actions were not illegal. For example, you may have needed to place money in a different location as you handled other financial matters. It may have been best to temporarily put it in your name until you could move it to its final location. Someone may have seen this and mistaken your actions for stealing.
Intent is an important part of any criminal prosecution. It is not enough to simply prove that a law was broken on a technicality. The prosecution must demonstrate that your actions were deliberate. With the complexity of the finance world, it is possible that you accidentally took more than your fair share. Perhaps there was a simple clerical error. When moving vast sums around, such things can happen without anyone noticing. Maybe you were working for your client during a stressful time like a divorce or family death. In your confusion, you simply put the money in the wrong place and suddenly found yourself accused of stealing.
Operating Under Duress
Not everyone in the financial world operates in good faith, which is why embezzlement laws exist. You may have been working with an unscrupulous firm that forced you to quietly shift money around for them, paying more than is deserved to the executives. You are still responsible for your own actions, but the law is generally compassionate about the power dynamics of a boss and their employee. By arguing duress, you may be able to gain sympathy from the court. They could agree that you had no choice and drop your charges.
Similarly, many people acquired their money through illegal means. You may have taken on a client and later discovered their criminal enterprise. Through threats and intimidation, they could have forced you to steal from another client for their benefit. In this situation, you could show the court that you were operating out of self-preservation.
Entrapment is a complicated, often misunderstood defense. To be clear, police running a false operation to catch criminals is not entrapment. They are allowed to lie, and they do not have to tell you that they are cops. If they suspect someone of regularly embezzling money, they can lay a trap. They could, for instance, send an undercover agent to pose as a new, wealthy client. If the suspect attempts to embezzle money from this person, they can be arrested. This is not an example of entrapment. The police only laid the bait. If the suspect took it, they are responsible for their own behavior.
Entrapment is about grooming someone into criminal behavior. Imagine you are a law-abiding, by-the-books person who works in finance. Someone approaches you with an opportunity to take large sums of money from a client. You say “no,” but they persist. They continue to explain all the ways you couldn’t possibly be caught. They have the scheme planned down to the smallest detail, and all they need is your help. Every time you decline, they make the deal sweeter and more fool-proof. Eventually, they wear you down, and you decide to participate. Suddenly, you find that they were actually working for the FBI, and you are in handcuffs. This is entrapment. It happens more often than you may imagine, and if it happened to you, you can defend yourself in court.
If you’ve been accused of embezzlement, contact our office today. We may be able to begin preparing a credible defense for you right away. Our number is (865) 544-2010, and you can contact us online.