Embezzlement: not just the stuff of movies

The term "embezzlement" often brings to mind something out of a movie in which a cunning villain concocts an elaborate scheme to stealthily steal money from a secured institution such as a bank. Although this can sometimes happen in real life, embezzlement is a type of white-collar crime that is more likely to appear in rather mundane situations and involve ordinary people, instead of criminal masterminds.

In a recent example, charges of embezzlement surfaced regarding a youth football program-an instance where one would least expect it. In the case, a Michigan woman was arrested and accused of embezzling $11,000 from a youth football program. The woman, who was the program's treasurer, eventually pleaded guilty to embezzling the funds.

What is embezzlement?

Although some people can correctly identify embezzlement as a type of theft, many aren't sure what exactly this crime entails. Embezzlement is a type of theft where a person who has legal access to another person's money or property takes or uses it for his or her own use. This type of theft is different from larceny, where the money or property is taken illegally by someone who does not have the right to lawfully access it.

Embezzlement usually occurs when the embezzler is entrusted with managing the money or property, as in the case of the youth football treasurer. Other common examples of embezzlement are employees embezzling company funds, bank tellers taking customer deposits or family members taking money or property from an elderly relative whom they are caring for.

In Wisconsin, embezzlement occurs when one, who by virtue of his or her office, business or employment, is in lawful possession of another's money or property intentionally converts it to his or her own use. If the suspected embezzler cannot return the money or property he or she is entrusted with managing to the rightful owner upon demand, this fact may be used to prove that he or she intended to use it for his or her own purposes.

Penalties for embezzlement

The penalties for embezzlement in Wisconsin depend on the value of the property stolen. For money or property worth less than $2,500, it is a misdemeanor offense, which can involve fines or jail time. However, as the value of the money or property embezzled increase, the crime becomes a felony offense and is punished with significantly heavier fines, longer prison sentences and restitution.

Aside from the fines and jail time, if you were convicted of embezzlement, it would likely be harder to earn a livelihood, as many employment opportunities would no longer be available to you. As a result, it is important to fight the charges from the beginning. An experienced criminal defense attorney can advise you on your situation and help you prepare an effective defense.