In the offices and shops that give Wheeling its bustling business district, money regularly changes hands from customers to cashiers, and from vendors to business partners. Many of the transactions that businesses make are done electronically and no physical currency is passed from person to person. However, individuals involved in business transactions can be suspected of embezzlement regardless of how money is transacted.

Embezzlement is a serious white collar crime that can carry with it significant penalties if convictions are secured against the accused. Before addressing punishments, though, it is important that the elements of embezzlement are clearly defined.

Embezzlement consists of several distinct elements that prosecutors must prove in order to secure convictions:

  • The act of possessing the property of another person or entity;
  • The transfer of that property into the possession of the embezzler; and
  • The intent of the embezzler to keep the property indefinitely.

Like other crimes, embezzlement requires an action and an intention: a taking and a plan to keep it. Readers may not see how embezzlement is different from theft based on this definition, but an important point of clarification should be made: Embezzled property is often entrusted to the alleged embezzler by the owner of the property and the alleged embezzler may have a duty to protect it.

In the context of business, an employee may be trusted to process the incoming account payments for their employer. They may handle money, enter its receipt into the employer’s system, and manage the deposit of that money into the employer’s account. If the employee were to take some of that money that was given to them to process, place it in their wallet, and fail to enter it into the account of their employer, they may be guilty of embezzlement.

Proving an embezzlement case puts a heavy burden of proof on a prosecutor and a defendant has options for crafting their own defense strategy. While every case of embezzlement is different and will move forward on its own specific facts, some defenses that may apply to embezzlement claims are:

  • Mistake of fact;
  • Innocence; and
  • Right of ownership

Readers of this post are encouraged to seek legal help from attorneys who know their cases and practice criminal defense law. This post does not offer any legal advice to its readers and should be reviewed as information only.