Embezzlement and White Collar Theft

The act of embezzlement is considered a white-collar type of theft. While most people may think of theft as the act of taking property which belongs to another person, white-collar theft involves property or money which is stolen in a business setting. For example, a person who deliberately manipulates bookkeeping records in order to funnel money into their own personal account may be charged with embezzlement, even if they never actually put their hands on any money.

What Is Embezzlement?

In legal terms, embezzlement is defined as a criminal action that involves a person or a group of people who misuse money or property for which they are responsible. This usually happens in a business or company environment. In many cases, a person who is in charge of accounting, purchasing or record keeping may embezzle money by diverting funds into their own account while covering up their actions.

For example, imagine that David is an accountant for a large construction company. David’s manager asks him to write a check for $5000 for construction supplies. David writes the check but then withdraws an additional $500 from the company’s account. He doesn’t include this withdrawal in the records and deposits the $500 into his own account. David may be charged with embezzlement.

The difference between theft and embezzlement is the access that a person has to the money or property that they stole. If David was not an employee of the construction money and simply stole a handful of money from a safe, he could be charged with theft. However, because he is employed by the company and it is his responsibility to oversee financial transaction, he has stolen and also violated the trust of the company. This is the definition of embezzlement.

Embezzlement Penalties

In Texas, the legal consequences for an embezzlement conviction are based on the value of the property that is stolen. According to Section 31.03 of the Texas Statutes and Codes Annotated, the penalties for an embezzlement conviction increase as the value of the stolen property increases. For example, embezzling funds or property worth less than $50 can lead to:

  • *A fine of up to $500
  • *Mandatory restitution in the amount of the stolen property

Theft by embezzlement of more than $1500 but less than $20,000 can lead to:

  • *Incarceration in jail for 180 days or up to two years
  • *A fine of up to $10,000
  • *Mandatory restitution in the amount of the stolen property

Embezzling more than $200,000 can lead to:

  • Five or up to 99 years or life in prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • Mandatory restitution in the amount of the stolen property

In certain cases, a person who embezzles under certain conditions or who commits additional offenses may have their sentence upgraded to the next highest penalty category. This means that they will face the consequences associated with the next highest level of embezzlement, even if they did not embezzle enough money to meet the prerequisites of that penalty category.

For example, a person who embezzled money:

  • from an elderly person aged 65 or older
  • from a nonprofit organization
  • while employed as a public servant
  • while in a contract with a government agency

A conviction for embezzlement can have serious, long-lasting consequences. In addition to the legal punishments and mandatory restitution, a person who is convicted of embezzlement may have difficulty finding employment in their chose career field.

For this reason, it is important to hire an attorney to defend against charges of embezzlement. In order to get a conviction, the prosecution must prove that the defendant had a criminal intent to embezzle. If the defense attorney can show that the property was mishandled as the result of a mistake or an accounting error, the charges may be reduced.

Contact experienced embezzlement attorney Matthew D. Sharp if you’ve been accused of embezzlement or other white collar crimes.