Embezzlement is the theft or misappropriation of funds entrusted to the care of another person, such as an employee. Because embezzlement is a theft of money belonging to another, it is treated as stealing under the New York Penal Code’s larceny statutes. The most common example of embezzlement is an employee taking money that he or she is responsible for keeping on behalf of an employer.
Accusations of embezzlement are serious, potentially career-ending, and can result in jail time and significant fines. Should you face an investigation or charges for embezzlement you need trusted legal counsel on your side. Heiferman & Associates, PLLC is a premier white-collar criminal defense firm with vast experience in representing defendants charged with theft of all types, including embezzlement. In fact, recently we obtained a no-jail sentence for a client accused of stealing over $600,000 from their employer.
What is Embezzlement?
Embezzlement is a crime of larceny or theft. As defined by statute, larceny is the wrongful taking, obtaining or withholding of another’s property, with the intent to deprive another of the property or to appropriate the property for his or her benefit or for the benefit of a third party. A more useful definition is taking property from another for personal benefit or otherwise, without the intent to return the property.
Embezzlement has a specific legal definition. Embezzlement is the fraudulent conversion of another’s property by a person in a position of trust. Examples include public officials in charge of public funds converting funds for personal use or employees of non-profit charities stealing donations. As a crime of larceny, the elements of embezzlement are derived from the New York Penal Code’s definition of larceny.
To prove larceny by embezzlement, the prosecution must show that: (1) the defendant specifically intended to cause property to be withheld from its rightful owner or had knowledge the owner would be deprived; and (2) the defendant did so with the specific intent or knowledge to deprive another of the value of the property. The prosecution must prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt in court.
Degrees of Embezzlement and Punishment
There are several degrees of larceny by embezzlement, each with different maximum punishments that vary based on the value of the property taken. For example, petit larceny, or petty larceny, is the taking of property valued at less than $1,000. Petty larceny is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days of imprisonment and a fine of no more than $1,000 or double the amount gained from the crime.
Aside from petty larceny, there are four degrees of grand larceny that are classified as felonies. From the least serious to most serious, they include:
- Grand larceny in the fourth degree: Grand larceny in the fourth degree occurs when a person steals property with value exceeding $1,000 but less than $3,000.
- Grand larceny in the fourth degree is a Class E felony punishable by imprisonment of no more than 4 years and a fine of $5,000 or no more than double the amount gained from the crime.
- Grand larceny in the third degree: Grand larceny in the third degree occurs when a person steals property with value exceeding $3,000 but less than $50,000.
- Grand larceny in the third degree is a Class D felony punishable by imprisonment of no more than 7 years and a fine of no more than double the amount gained from the crime.
- Grand larceny in the second degree: Grand larceny in the second degree occurs when a person steals property with value exceeding $50,000 but less than $1,000,000.
- Grand larceny in the second degree is a Class C felony punishable by imprisonment of no more than 15 years and a fine of no more than double the amount gained from the crime.
- Grand larceny in the first degree: Grand larceny in the first degree occurs when a person steals property with value exceeding $1,000,000.
- Grand larceny in the first degree is a Class B felony punishable by imprisonment of no more than 25 years and a fine of no more than double the amount gained from the crime.
In addition to jail time and fines, a defendant convicted of larceny by embezzlement may also be ordered to pay restitution, meaning the defendant must repay the victims of the crime. In many cases, criminal fines and restitution cannot be discharged through bankruptcy and result in lifelong debts.
Defenses to Criminal Embezzlement
The most common defense to criminal charges for larceny by embezzlement is an attempt to show the defendant did not have the required intent to commit the crime — that he or she did not intend to deprive the rightful owner of the property. Depending on the facts, this may be shown in many ways, such as providing evidence that the defendant moved property for safekeeping.
The New York Penal Code provides a statutory defense to larceny by embezzlement in the situation where the property appropriated was taken under a claim of right in good faith. This is an affirmative defense to larceny committed by embezzlement. Examples include taking physical property under the mistaken belief that it belongs to you or withdrawing funds under the belief that you are rightfully owed them.
The statute of limitations also serves as a defense to larceny by embezzlement. If the charges brought are for a felony (grand larceny), the prosecution must occur within five years of the commission of the crime. If the charges brought are for a misdemeanor (petty larceny), the prosecution must occur within two years of the commission of the crime.
Related Criminal Charges
Embezzlement is generally thought of as white-collar crime and can often be charged in conjunction with other white-collar criminal offenses such as fraud, forgery, or identity theft. In addition to state crimes, embezzlement can often lead to charges for federal crimes of wire fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering.
Contact a Queens Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Embezzlement is a serious crime with serious consequences. How you approach any criminal charges can greatly impact the outcome of a criminal case. It is always recommended that you seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney before speaking to law enforcement or other investigators regarding your actions.
If you are in a situation in which you need representation for embezzlement charges or any other white-collar crime, Heiferman & Associates, PLLC, is here to help. Our attorneys have extensive experience in both criminal prosecution and defense of white-collar crimes and have a thorough understanding of New York criminal procedure. After every consultation, we provide you with options on how to proceed in your case — always with the goal of absolving you as a suspect or getting any potential charges reduced or dropped altogether. The attorneys at Heiferman & Associates, PLLC are dedicated to protecting your rights and obtaining the best outcome in your case.
While our office is located in Queens, our criminal defense lawyers represent clients charged with embezzlement and/or larceny in Brooklyn (Kings County), Manhattan (New York County), Long Island (Nassau County and Suffolk County) and in various courts throughout New Jersey. We also handle these cases in Federal Courts including Eastern District of New York, Southern District of New York and the District of New Jersey.