What is embezzlement?

Embezzlement is a crime that involves the unlawful conversion of property by someone who has been entrusted with it. The offender generally has some type of relationship to the victim, such as an employee, a fiduciary, a bank or a government official. Embezzlement can be minor, involving small sums, like that of a cashier appropriating small amounts of money from his own register, to large and sophisticated plans, such as worldwide Ponzi schemes involving millions of dollars.

A key element of the crime of embezzlement is that the offender had lawful possession of the property at the time the conversion occurred. If he did not, he is not guilty of embezzlement, but some type of theft crime. Like theft crimes, embezzlement is generally graded as a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the value of the property embezzled.

Types of Property That Can Be Embezzled

Property that can be embezzled under most state laws include tangible and intangible personal property. Tangible personal property is anything that can be touched and in and of itself represents its own value. Examples of tangible personal property include jewelry, an employer's office equipment and paintings. Intangible personal property is anything that is evidence or representative of value in something else, such as money, certificates of deposit, stocks or bonds.

Embezzlement Schemes

A recent case of large-scale embezzlement was the Madoff investment scandal. In 2009, former stockbroker and investment counselor Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for embezzling from $18 billion to almost $65 billion from his investors.

There are also many other types of embezzlement schemes. One kind involves the falsifying of records to hide the amounts of money or kinds of property that have been converted. Another is the setting up of false vendor accounts in order to send false bills that appear legitimate to the company being embezzled. Still another is the creation of phony employees who are issued paychecks from the embezzled employer's payroll accounts.

Getting Help

If you feel you are a victim of an embezzlement scheme, the best thing to do is contact an embezzlement lawyer who can help determine if you have a case and how you can go about winning it.