Embezzlement is a crime in which a person is entrusted with money or property and then fails to give it back, or uses it for unauthorized purposes. It comes up most commonly in the employment setting, when an employee entrusted with funds secretly keeps some of the money.
These employment-related embezzlement cases are typically heard at the state court level, but there are cases where people face federal embezzlement charges. Typically, these involve an accusation that the defendant took public funds or other government property.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania recently announced that a federal grand jury had indicted the director of a nonprofit on embezzlement charges. Prosecutors say that from 2010-2017, the director took more than $220,000 in federal grants that were meant for nonprofit’s charity work and used it for herself.
In legal terms, this type of misuse of funds is known as “conversion.” The employee or other entrusted person is said to have “converted” the money to his or her own use without authority to do so. The conversion must be intentional, and not a mistake of accounting or oversight.
In many cases, these issues of conversion and intention are not easy to prove. It’s straightforward enough for prosecutors to prove when a retail store employee took cash out of the register and stuffed it in his pocket, but many cases require courts to examine complex financial records and hear from expert witnesses who can talk about accounting methods and other issues that can explain what happened.
Those who are accused of embezzlement have the right to a defense. They should seek out help from a defense attorney with experience in white-collar crime, who knows how to present and interpret the evidence.