What Is Embezzlement?
Embezzlement is a form of theft, or larceny. What separates embezzlement from other forms of theft is the way it is committed. It involves taking money that was entrusted to someone. For example, we often hear stories of wealthy celebrities who lose money to unscrupulous accountants or managers. This is embezzlement. When someone misappropriates funds for themselves, they are embezzling.
Penalties for Embezzlement
Embezzlement is a serious charge. It creates a stain on someone’s record, and an alleged embezzler can face severe prison time. In Virginia, penalties depend on the amount of money embezzled. If someone is accused of embezzling less than $1,000 from their client, this is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Class 1 is the highest form of misdemeanor in Virginia, just below a felony. For this charge, a guilty verdict is punishable by up to one year in jail and fines of up to $2,500.
If the amount of money embezzled is more than $1,000, penalties rise sharply, and the crime becomes a felony. Most felony crimes in Virginia are classified by numbers. Felonies come in Classes 1 – 6, with 1 being the most severe. Some Virginia felonies are “Class U,” or “unclassified.” This means they don’t neatly fit into the normal, numbered categories. Embezzlement is a Class U felony. As such, judges can sentence these crimes at their discretion. They can be very harsh or lenient in their sentencing. At the most extreme, felony embezzlement can be penalized by up to 20 years in prison with fines of up to $2,500.
Here are some ways you and your legal team can argue against embezzlement accusations in court.
Challenge the Evidence
As with any accusation, you can challenge the veracity of the evidence itself. This can be a particularly effective defense against embezzlement. Financial exchanges are often complicated, even when they are completely innocent. It may be possible to demonstrate to the court that your actions were not embezzlement. Perhaps the authorities are trying to trap you on a technicality, and you could possibly prove that the accusation itself is misguided.
Demonstrate a Lack of Intent
Intent is an important component of any criminal accusation. Prosecutors must show that someone committed the act in question, and they did so on purpose. Again, the world of high finance is complicated. It is entirely possible that yes, you did move money, but it was a simple clerical error. Perhaps, through the complexities of your contract, you believed the money was yours to take. You could have also moved the money to yourself temporarily. Maybe it was easier to put the money in a different location while you worked through red tape, and you had every intention of moving it back where it belonged.
You could also show the court that you had been temporarily incapacitated when you moved the funds. It cannot be stressed enough; the world of money and finance is highly complex. Anything could cause an error or disruption when moving money around. Perhaps you were on a medication that had muddied your thoughts, or you were battling an illness that left you confused. Maybe you were going through a major life stressor such as a divorce or family death that impeded your judgement. This is another way to demonstrate that you had no intention of taking someone’s money when you made transactions.
Prove That You Acted Under Duress
When you are acting against your will, it can be said that you are “under duress.” The world is full of dangerous, immoral criminals, and sometimes, good people find themselves in the bad guy’s orbit. If you, intentionally or not, found yourself doing business with criminals, they may have targeted you, their business partner. It is possible that, under threat of harm to you or your family, you began funneling money into your account to pay off dangerous people.
In a less dramatic situation, you could have been working for an unscrupulous superior. Perhaps you were directly ordered to start moving money illegally. The law often acknowledges the power dynamics inherent in a work environment. If you were operating under orders from the top, you can use this duress as a defense against embezzlement.
Argue That the Authorities Are Guilty of Entrapment
Entrapment is a complicated defense. People often confuse it with legitimate police investigations. Police are within their rights to lie; claim they are not police; and create fake scenarios to arrest people. If the authorities suspect you of embezzling, they can concoct a situation where they tempt you into doing it again. They could, in theory, pose as a new client with enormous wealth. If they believe you embezzled from this undercover agent, that is not entrapment. With entrapment, you must show that the police led you to commit a crime that you wouldn’t have otherwise. This scenario seems farfetched, but it does happen.
Entrapping someone into embezzlement can look like this. Jim is a good man with a clean record. One day, he is approached by someone who claims to be the grandchild of a wealthy socialite. This person tries to convince Jim that their grandparent is too old to notice any missing funds. If Jim becomes the grandparent’s client, the person argues, they could easily funnel a vast fortune away from the grandparent. Jim refuses, but this person doesn’t stop. They want Jim to take this money and split it with them 50/50. They keep showing up, explaining that it’s a fool-proof, victimless crime. The grandparent is too old to spend what they have, and no one will ever catch them. After months of convincing, Jim finally relents. This is when the other person reveals they are an undercover cop, and they arrest Jim. That is entrapment. For an entrapment defense to work, you must show that you were lured into a situation.
You Can Defend Against Your Charges
Remember that you are innocent until proven guilty, and you have a constitutional right to a defense. No matter what charges are against you, you can challenge them in a criminal trial. Talk to an experienced attorney, and they can help you prepare a credible defense in court.
If you are facing embezzlement charges, contact me today for a free consultation. My number is (540) 827-4446, and you can reach me online.