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Understanding Federal Embezzlement Charges

The federal crime of embezzlement can be very confusing to understand, and there are certain characteristics that distinguish it from the more common crime of larceny. To answer your specific questions, you should retain qualified defense counsel that has demonstrated success in defending clients against federal embezzlement charges in Washington, DC. For a general review of the subject, however, you may feel free to refer to this page.

Embezzlement occurs when a person who has been entrusted with access to property misappropriates that property for the purpose of personal gain. An important aspect to keep in mind is that the person who has embezzled the property has a legal right to possess or access the property, but does not actually own the property. The criminalization and definition of embezzlement developed based on the crime of larceny, which prosecutors were unable to prove because the defendant had a right to possess the property. In order to address that problem, the criminal offense of embezzlement was developed and defined. Generally, proving embezzlement requires the prosecution to establish five distinct elements, which are a (1) fraudulent (2) conversion of the (3) property of (4) another, when the defendant had (5) lawful possession of the property.

As is true in other criminal cases, the government must establish each element of embezzlement beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest burden of proof that exists in the United States’ legal system. The standard beyond a reasonable doubt means that if there is any doubt that may affect a reasonable person’s belief that a defendant is guilty, then a judge or a jury may not convict the accused. This standard gives skilled defense attorneys ample opportunity to challenge criminal charges and they may, in some instances, even be able to have a case completely dismissed prior to a trial.

Federal Embezzlement Crimes and Penalties in DC

The federal laws regulating embezzlement focus on situations when a government employee or a person with access to government property takes the property for their own gain. For instance, a government contractor transporting material from one place to another could embezzle property, as could a federal employee who worked at the Federal Reserve.  Chapter 31 of the United States Code deals with embezzlement and theft crimes, among which are:

  • Section 641 – Public money, property or records – Individuals who embezzle money, property, or records from the United States that is worth in excess of $1,000 is subject to a $250,000 fine, 10 years in prison, or both. If the records, property, or money is worth less than $1,000, the individual is subject to a fine of up to $100,000, up to one year in prison, or both.
  • Section 642 – Tools and materials for counterfeiting purposes – People who embezzle tools, implements, or other items that are used or are fit to be used in stamping or printing, or makes a similar item used to make any item that is put into circulation by the United States is subject to a fine of up to $250,000, 10 years in prison, or both.
  • Section 643 – Accounting generally for public money – This section of the law deals with the embezzlement of public money by officers, employees, or agents of the United States or its various departments or agencies. If the amount of money embezzled is in excess of $1,000, the penalties can include a fine of up to $250,000 or the amount embezzled, whichever is greater, up to 10 years in prison, or both. If the amount embezzled is less than $1,000, the penalties could include fines of up to $1,000, up to one year in prison, or both.
  • Section 644 – Banker receiving unauthorized deposit of public money – Individuals who are not authorized to receive deposits of public funds who knowingly receive public money as a deposit, a loan, or in any other way other than in payment of a debt of the United States, and use that money in a way not prescribed by law, are guilty of embezzlement.  The fine for embezzling more than $1,000 can be up to $250,000 or the amount embezzled, whichever is greater, and the individual could also be imprisoned for up to 10 years. If the amount is less than $1,000, the fine can be up to $1,000, and the offense can also carry a penalty of up to one year in jail.
  • Section 645 – Court Officers Generally – Federal court employees who are convicted of embezzling up to $1,000 can be fined up to $1,000 and are subject to imprisonment for up to one year, or both. If the amount is greater than $1,000, the fine can be up to $250,000 or the amount embezzled, whichever is greater, the individual can be imprisoned for up to 10 years, or both penalties may apply.