An embezzlement charge is a criminal accusation that a person has misappropriated or misused funds that were meant for another purpose, with the intent of depriving the owner of those funds or resources. It typically is a term applied to white collar crimes, but may also be applied to other situations. The crime may be considered a misdemeanor or felony. The classification of an embezzlement charge typically depends on the amount of money involved, and the thresholds of the local jurisdiction.
Often, at least in the United States, the federal government uses the term embezzlement as a way of differentiating charges of theft at the state level. A federal embezzlement charge may be warranted in cases where the crime covers multiple states, and thus falls under the federal government's constitutionally-mandated charge to regulate interstate commerce. Often, embezzlement may be charged at both the federal and state level, if both governing bodies believe the charge is warranted.
Typically, the person facing an embezzlement charge has a pre-existing relationship with the company or entity from which money or resources are stolen. For example, a city clerk in a town may not decide to deposit or log all of the cash receipts collected. In such cases, the clerk may pick and choose which payments to keep, and which to deposit, usually choosing to misappropriate only those that have the lowest ability to be tracked.
In other cases, an embezzlement charge may result when a person has no pre-existing relationship with a company or entity, or at least not a close relationship. For example, a person may purport to be an agent of a company, and attempt to withdraw funds from a company's account. If that happens, the charge of embezzlement may also be coupled with a forgery charge, or some other types of criminal charges.
If a person is found guilty of an embezzlement charge, there are a number of resolutions the judge may impose. First, the judge will often impose a prison sentence, or at least suspended prison sentence with prison time served. Second, the judge will typically order restitution to the victim in the amount of money stolen. The defendant may also need to pay interest. Third, the defendant may also need to spend a period of time in supervised release after the prison sentence.
Although an embezzlement charge is not a violent crime, it has taken on prominence in the wake of financial scandals at large companies. The victims of embezzlement often must spend years rebuilding the investment that was lost, in addition to training new employees and coming up with new safeguards. The impact of the action may go well beyond just the monetary value of those things that were stolen.