According to the Legal Information Institute, embezzlement is the, “fraudulent taking of personal property by someone to whom it was entrusted. Most often associated with the misappropriation of money. Embezzlement can occur regardless of whether the defendant keeps the personal property or transfers it to a third party.”
The key point that makes embezzlement different from most other crimes that involve money such as fraud is that the defendant actually has permission to have the money, though there are normally strings attached. Examples of this include a brokerage account, the treasurer of a non-profit organization or a person who is in charge of making purchases for a business. The issue isn’t that they have the money, but rather that they aren’t using the funds for the purpose the money was intended for.
Common examples of embezzlement include:
- Overcharging and pocketing the surplus
- Dipping into the cash register you’re in charge of
- Depositing business or vendor checks into a personal account
- Exaggerating on your expense account
- Stealing office supplies
- Falsifying employee records and depositing the unneeded paychecks into your account
- Putting false information into the accounting books
- Accepting bribes
In many situations, the embezzlement starts off with a small amount that gets larger as the embezzler gets bolder.
California’s legal system has two different penal codes that address the issue of embezzlement. The first is Penal Code Section 484 which deals with the embezzlement of property, such as office supplies, company office equipment and leased vehicles. The second is Penal Code Sections 503-515.
Many people don’t realize that embezzlement is one of California’s wobbler offenses. If the amount of the embezzled property is worth $950 or less, you’ll only be charged with a misdemeanor. The maximum conviction is six months in jail. Most embezzlement cases involve a greater monetary value, which means felony charges. A guilty conviction can include three years in state prison. Most felony embezzlement cases also include additional charges which can lead to more severe sentencing.
Defenses that have been successfully used in embezzlement cases include:
- The person didn’t intend to use the money/property for their own gain
- The transfer of funds was an honest accident
- Actually believed they were entitled to the funds based on something they’d been told or prior actions
The best way to avoid an embezzlement charge is to be diligent and careful anytime you’re dealing with money or property that technically belongs to someone else.