Embezzlement is a white-collar crime in Missouri. It is defined as withholding the assets of one or more people to whom the assets have been entrusted, and are misappropriated and used for another purpose.
Missouri Laws and Penalties
To be convicted of embezzlement in Missouri, there must be three elements present:
- There must be a fiduciary relationship established. This means that the victim relied upon and entrusted you to handle money, property, etc. A common fiduciary relationship that can result in embezzlement charges in Missouri is between a financial advisor and a client. However, if you are just handling money for another person, there is not necessarily a fiduciary relationship. A cashier is simply handling the money in a financial transaction with a customer. This is not a fiduciary relationship. But a financial advisor and a couple do have a fiduciary relationship.
- You need to have gotten the property of the victim via the fiduciary relationship. The property must have been transferred to you or another party. You cannot be convicted of embezzlement if you just had access to the money or property. It is a requirement that you accessed the funds and transferred them to use for yourself. For instance, if you are a financial advisor, you could be charged with embezzlement if you used the access to a customer’s funds to benefit from them. This involves converting the property for your own use.
- Your actions had to have been on purpose. This is a key part of being convicted of embezzlement. If you took control of the person’s property by mistake, this is not embezzlement. There must have been an intentional action on your part. There must have been fraud committed.
Missouri Code 570.030 states that the penalties related to embezzlement depend upon the value of the assets that were stolen. In most cases, jail time is to be expected, even if you are only charged with a relatively mild form of embezzlement. The statute establishes the following penalties for embezzlement in Missouri:
- $500 or less: Up to a year in jail and a $1000 fine. This is a Class A Misdemeanor.
- $500 to $25,000: Up to seven years in prison and a $5000 fine. This is a Class C Felony.
- $25,000 or more: Up to 15 years in prison and a fine up to $20,000. This is a Class B Felony.
Missouri Embezzlement Defenses
Embezzlement is a serious crime, and can be a misdemeanor or felony, depending upon the value of the money or property. The most common defenses to an embezzlement charge in Missouri are:
- Insufficient evidence: Your charge could be dismissed if there is not enough evidence to prosecute you for embezzlement. It is up to the jury to decide if there is enough evidence to convict you beyond a reasonable doubt. Some estimate that 40% of federal embezzlement charges are dropped because of lack of evidence.
- Entrapment: This happens if the police or government compel someone to commit a crime that they would not have committed. Stings are mostly exempt, but setting up some type of financial bait to get you to embezzle funds could be entrapment. If you bring this defense, the prosecutor could argue that you were going to commit the offense in any case.
- No intent to commit embezzlement: There usually is a requirement of intent to be charged with a crime. This is the case with embezzlement. You must have intended to take the property or money to be convicted, or the case can be dismissed. A common case is the accused thought he was the actual owner of the property that was allegedly embezzled.
- Duress: This happens if a person thinks if they do not embezzle funds, they could have harm done to them. An example is if your supervisor threatens your job if you do not embezzle money or property. But you cannot claim duress if you stole money to pay your bills or take care of your family.
- Incapacity: This can be an effective embezzlement defense if you can prove mental incapacitation at the time the crime allegedly occurred. An example is being heavily medicated for a medical condition and not being aware of taking the funds.
Missouri Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations for criminal offenses, including stealing and embezzlement, are found in Section 556.036 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri. The statute of limitations for a misdemeanor offense is one year from the date of the alleged crime. The statute of limitations for a felony is three years from the date of the alleged crime.
Missouri Embezzlement Cases
- Beard Sentenced in Embezzlement Case at the University of Missouri: Businessman Burt Beard from Kirksville MO was sentenced to 24 months in prison after pleading guilty to bank fraud. He admitted to embezzling nearly $400,000 from a fraternity at the University of Missouri when serving as a volunteer treasurer. The federal government wanted a 33-month sentence for Beard, while his attorney sought a sentence of one year. The judge met both sides halfway and also ordered Beard to pay restitution to the fraternity – Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
- Jasper, Missouri School District Employee Pleads Guilty to $145K Embezzlement: A former employee of the Jasper MO R-5 School District pleaded guilty recently to embezzling $145,000 from the school district. Karla Justice, 55, waived her right to a grand jury and pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of credit card fraud.
- Church Employee Embezzled $445,000 From Blue Springs, Missouri Church: A longtime employee of St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic Church was found to be embezzling $445,000 over the past seven years, according to a recent media report. The worker was confronted by an internal investigation team, and the woman agreed to pay the money back. They came to an agreement to pay the balance within 60 days.
- Ex-Professor Embezzled $375,000 from Webster University: The ex-director of a Webster University institute who embezzled $375,000 received a sentence of probation and was ordered to complete a 65-page journal. Deborah Pierce, 62, from St. Louis, also must repay the money. Her attorney wanted her to serve 12 months in prison, while the prosecutors wanted 18 months. The woman set up a separate account to embezzle the funds, and $160,000 was eventually recovered from that account.
- White Collar Crimes – Embezzlement. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.sumnercriminallaw.com/Criminal-Defense/White-Collar-Crimes/Embezzlement.aspx
- Petty Theft in Missouri. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.criminaldefenselawyer.com/resources/criminal-defense/crime-penalties/petty-theft-missouri-penalties-defense
- Defenses to Embezzlement. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/defenses-to-embezzlement.html