Embezzlement occurs when someone in charge of another's money and/or property, usually a company's, takes or uses those assets for their own personal gain. In definition, it may sound the same as any other type of theft, but there a few key differences that set embezzlement apart.
If you are in charge of some of your employer's assets, such as managing your company's accounts or finances, you should know what embezzlement is so that you can avoid it, and what the penalties are if you are found guilty of embezzling.
What is considered to be embezzlement?
As defined earlier, embezzlement is the theft or misuse of a company's or organization's assets by a person placed in charge of those assets. Sometimes a huge sum of money is taken from the company's account at once and then the crime is covered up, and other times, small amounts are taken out over a long period of time so that the company may not even notice their money is being embezzled.
One of the most important things to understand is that embezzlement involves knowledge of misuse. If someone misuses company money but truly believed they were using it for something the money was allowed to be used for, they could potentially be charged with stealing but not embezzlement.
What is the penalty for embezzlement?
Embezzling cases are often examined at the state level, so the consequences vary. In South Carolina, embezzlement is a felony and if someone is found guilty of embezzling, they face fines and jail time.
The size of the fine is proportional to the amount of money embezzled, so these fines could be very significant if large sums of money were taken from the company. Usually all money must be paid back to the original owner. Jail time also depends upon the amount of money embezzled. Jail time could be five years, or if $10,000 or more were taken, the jail time sentence could be ten or more years.
When is someone found guilty of embezzling?
There are four main circumstances that must be proven for someone to be guilty of embezzling.
1. The accused must know that taking the money in question is a crime.
2. The accused must know that the money doesn't belong to them or cannot be used for the purposes for which they were used.
3. The accused must have intent to steal from the company or owner of the money, which often goes hand-in-hand with knowing the money does not belong to them.
4. The accused must have been put in charge of the money by the company/owner of the money.
The main factor behind whether or not someone is guilty of embezzlement is their knowledge of the money's purpose and how it should be used. This is why understanding embezzlement is so important, especially for those who manage funds and accounts as part of their job.
If you are accused of embezzlement or fear you might be suspected of embezzling, you should call an attorney and ask about best options and how to proceed.