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Embezzlement Charges: Federal Penalties and How to Fight Them

By Spodek Law Group | October 18, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 19, 2023)

Last Updated on: 19th October 2023, 01:56 pm

Embezzlement Charges: Federal Penalties and How to Fight Them

Getting charged with embezzlement can be scary. You may be facing federal charges, big fines, and even jail time. But don’t panic! This article will break down exactly what federal embezzlement charges are, what the penalties are, and most importantly—how you can fight them.

What is Embezzlement?

Embezzlement is a type of fraud. It happens when someone who has been entrusted to manage money or property takes some of it for their own personal use or benefit.

For example:

  • A bank teller takes $100 out of a customer’s account and keeps it for themselves
  • An accountant makes fake invoices for a company and pockets the payments
  • A nonprofit employee uses donations to pay for personal vacations and bills

The key factors are:

  • The person had lawful access to the money or property (through their job, position, etc.)
  • They took it for their own personal gain, not the owner’s benefit
  • They violated a position of trust by taking it

This makes embezzlement different from regular theft or larceny. In embezzlement, the original taking of the money or property is lawful because the person has authorization. But how they use it after is unlawful.

Federal vs. State Charges

Embezzlement can be charged at both the state and federal level. Federal charges come into play when:

  • The theft was from the U.S. government directly
  • The money/property was owned by the federal government
  • The organization that was stolen from received federal funding

Some examples of potential federal embezzlement cases:

  • A post office employee takes money from the cash drawer
  • A National Park gift shop cashier pockets some of the sales
  • A bookkeeper for a Head Start program (federally funded) writes fraudulent checks to themselves

Embezzlement cases without a federal connection are charged by individual states.

Penalties for Federal Embezzlement

The penalties for a federal embezzlement conviction mainly depend on two factors:

  1. The value of what was taken – The more money or higher value of property stolen, the stiffer the sentence.
  2. Whether it’s a misdemeanor vs. felony – This is determined by the value taken.

Here’s a breakdown of the potential fines and jail time:

Misdemeanor Embezzlement

  • Property value: $1,000 or less
  • Fines: Up to $100,000
  • Jail: Up to 1 year

Felony Embezzlement

  • Property value: More than $1,000
  • Fines: Up to $250,000
  • Jail: Up to 10 years

There are also harsher penalties for certain types of federal embezzlement, like theft by a bank examiner or from a federally insured bank. Fines can go up to $1 million and prison time up to 30 years.

Judges have leeway to impose other punishments too, like:

  • Ordering repayment of what was stolen
  • Adding restitution to any victims
  • Putting the defendant on probation

The bottom line is embezzlement is taken very seriously. The federal government wants to crack down hard to deter fraud and abuse of the public trust.

How to Fight Federal Embezzlement Charges

The best way to fight federal embezzlement charges is to work with an experienced white collar criminal defense lawyer. A skilled attorney can review the evidence and figure out the best defense strategy for your specific case.

Here are some of the most common ways lawyers defend embezzlement charges:

Claim You Didn’t Take the Money/Property

The most straightforward defense is to simply claim you never took anything unlawfully. Mistakes happen during audits and investigations. Maybe the missing money was just misplaced or the calculations were wrong.

Your lawyer can scrutinize the methods used to uncover the alleged embezzlement. Were they reliable? Is there any room for doubt?

Argue You Didn’t Have Criminal Intent

Prosecutors must prove you intended to deprive the owner of their money or property. If you can show there was no criminal intent, it weakens the case against you.

For example, perhaps you planned to return what you took or made a good faith error. While ignorance of the law is no excuse, true accidents do happen.

Challenge the Federal Connection

As mentioned earlier, federal charges require a federal interest, like government funds being taken. If the connection is weak, your attorney can argue the state should handle the case instead of federal prosecutors.

Negotiate a Plea Deal

If the evidence against you is overwhelming, your lawyer may advise taking a plea bargain instead of risking trial. Typical deals require pleading guilty in exchange for reduced charges or a lighter sentence recommendation.

While emotionally tough, plea deals can be smart to avoid harsh penalties. An experienced negotiator can get you the best deal possible.

Seek Diversion Programs

First-time offenders may qualify for pretrial diversion programs like deferred prosecution. These involve fulfilling requirements like restitution, community service, rehab programs, etc. in exchange for avoiding conviction.

Request Sentencing Leniency

If convicted, your lawyer can present mitigating circumstances to the judge before sentencing. Factors like your clean record, family obligations, mental health issues, addiction problems, or cooperation with prosecutors may persuade the judge to be more lenient.

Takeaways on Fighting Federal Embezzlement Charges

  • Work with an experienced white collar criminal defense attorney
  • Explore every avenue to fight the charges at trial
  • If the evidence is strong, consider negotiating a plea deal
  • Diversion programs may avoid conviction for first-timers
  • Present mitigating factors to the judge to request sentencing leniency

Being charged with federal embezzlement is scary. But with an aggressive legal defense, you can avoid harsh penalties and protect your future. Don’t go it alone against federal prosecutors. Get experienced legal firepower in your corner.

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