Embezzlement is a form of property theft. It happens when a person who was supposed to manage another person’s or entity’s property, steals some or all of those assets. The important legal aspect is that the person had legal access to the money or property of another but did not actually have legal ownership of it. When you take the money or property of another person or entity, this is stealing. But when you combine the stealing with the fact that the person was in a place of trust, then you have the crime of embezzlement.
Laws on embezzlement at the federal level target thieves from the federal government. For example, these laws sometimes are used to prosecute park rangers who steal property from a national park. Federal laws in this area also deal with property theft where the property is owned by a private entity. But the government paid for the service or product.
For instance, say there is an employee of a construction company that was hired by the federal government to work on a building that belongs to the government. If that employee steals building materials that the government paid for, then he could be charged with federal embezzlement.
Federal embezzlement laws differ somewhat from state laws. State laws cover thefts by public officials who work for state and local governments, but also embezzlement by people who do not work for the government. For example, employees who steal property from their companies, and those who steal property from people that others entrusted to them, also are charged under state embezzlement laws.
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Embezzlement Crimes & Charges
Federal embezzlement laws are defined by the type of money and property that was taken:
- Public money, property or records: Anyone who embezzles money, records, property or any other item of value to the US government that is worth more than $1000 will get a fine of $250,000, up to 10 years in prison or both. If the value is under $1000, the fine can be up to $100,000 and up to a year in jail, or both.
- Tools/materials for counterfeiting: Includes any tools and materials that may be used to create currency notes, federal bonds and more that are circulated by the US government. Penalties for embezzling such items will bring a fine of up to $250,000, 10 years in prison or both.
- Accounting generally for public money: This deals with embezzling public money by officers of the federal government, agents or employees. Penalties depend upon how much was embezzled. For $1000 and higher, the penalty can be a fine of up to $250,000, or the sum of what was embezzled, up to 10 years in prison or both. For less than $1000, the penalty can be $1000, up to a year in jail or both.
Federal embezzlement convictions with $250,000+ fines are considered felonies, and convictions with fines of up to $100,000 are considered misdemeanors.
Imprisonment will vary depending upon the amount that was stolen. You could do six months in jail, or up to 20 to 30 years in prison depending upon the type of violation. How much you are sentenced also depends upon your criminal history.
Embezzlement Sentencing Guidelines
The US government uses a point system to determine the sentence for the crime of embezzlement. The minimum number of points that the person can earn is the Base Offense Level. The lowest Base Offense Level is six, and the highest is 36. The government sets the Base Offense Level at six, if the loss is $5000 or less. The maximum is 36, if the victim’s loss is over $400 million.
Embezzlement Statute of Limitations
The federal statute 18 USC 3282 states that no one can be prosecuted, tried or punished for any non-capital offense unless the indictment is found or information is instituted within five years of the commission of the offense.
The amounts of money that can be stolen in an embezzlement scheme is shocking. It is hard to imagine that crimes involving billions of dollars stolen are not discovered faster.
Some large federal embezzlement cases have made headlines in recent years. Some of the biggest include:
- Bernie Madoff, Investment Advisor: Embezzled billions of dollars of investor money.
- Enron Corp: Billions in accounting fraud and embezzlement of employee retirement funds.
- Stanford Financial Group: $8 billion in fraud, embezzlement and ponzi scheme.
- Peregrine Financial: Embezzled $20 million of investor dollars