How Does Virginia Define Embezzlement?
Information about embezzlement can be found under Virginia Code § 18.2-111. However, the quick and easy answer is that Virginia defines embezzlement as a form of larceny. This means that it involves one person stealing assets from another, most often cash (though not necessarily).
Embezzlement involves the use of a scheme to defraud a victim. The victim must have some form of fiduciary relationship or position of trust with the perpetrator. The victim believes they can trust the perpetrator, and in many cases, the perpetrator will successfully handle many of the transactions they were hired to complete. The victim usually uncovers the thefts when they realize some transactions cost more than was expected, and after looking more closely usually finds many more transactions and that the trust and power they invested in the perpetrator has been abused to exploit the victim.
Embezzlement is a crime that may occur once or it could occur over a long period of time. For example, a company’s accountant may use their position to give themselves a Christmas bonus each year without the company knowing about it.
What Are the Penalties for Embezzlement?
The penalties for embezzlement in Virginia depend on the circumstances of the crime. The value of the stolen property, the convicted party’s criminal history, what is stolen, and other aggravating factors all contribute to the eventual sentence imposed.
If the value of the embezzled money or property is less than $1,000, then it is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of no more than $2,500, a jail sentence of up to twelve months, or both. If found guilty, you may be ordered to pay restitution to the victim.
If the embezzled property is worth $1,000 or more, the penalty is no less than a year incarceration but no more than 20 years in prison, a fine of no more than $2,500, or both. You again would be ordered to pay restitution.
Embezzlement cases also tend to include probation and community service as part of the sentence.
Aggravating factors can lead to harsher sentences. For example, if the embezzlement was committed against vulnerable individuals like elderly citizens or those with mental disabilities. Similarly, if the embezzler has a position that implies a heightened level of trust, this could be considered an aggravating factor. For example, if somebody’s priest decided to use their position to gain the trust of their flock but used that trust to embezzle their donations.
In some cases, embezzlement can be charged as a federal crime.
How Does a Prosecutor Prove Embezzlement?
In order to face the punishments above, it must first be proven that you committed embezzlement. While there are some cases that are relatively cut and dry, it is actually rather difficult to prove embezzlement occurred.
A prosecutor proves that embezzlement happened by showing the court the following:
- The accused had the intention of permanently depriving the victim of their money or property.
- The money or property that was stolen was at one point entrusted to the accused, such as through a fiduciary relationship.
- The specific value of the embezzled property was $1,000.00 or more if the charge is a felony.
While the last only applies to certain cases where the prosecution looks for a felony conviction, the first two are relevant to every embezzlement case. They also give us a lot of information about the key elements that the prosecution is looking for.
- Intention: A person cannot commit embezzlement without intention. They may be guilty of losing money or mismanaging it, but embezzlement is an intentional act.
- Permanently Depriving: A person commits embezzlement when they intend to take money or assets away from their lawful owner permanently.
- Entrusted: If the accused was not entrusted with the stolen property, then they could not have embezzled it. They could have stolen it, yes, but that is a different crime called larceny.
These are all key elements for the prosecution, and they are also incredibly important for forming a defense as well. Let’s turn our attention to the various defenses that may be employed against a charge of embezzlement.
What Defenses Are There Against a Charge of Embezzlement?
There are actually quite a number of defenses that may work against a charge of embezzlement, depending on the circumstances of the case. Obviously, it is important to work with your criminal defense attorney to build a defense based on the unique aspects of your experience.
Some defenses that may apply to a charge of embezzlement include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Duress: You were forced to embezzle funds under threat of harm or other repercussions. While you did engage in illegal activity, it was only for fear of your own safety and not because of your own desire.
- Lack of Evidence: There is simply not enough evidence to prove that you committed embezzlement.
- No Intent: You never intended to embezzle funds; therefore, you did not commit the crime of embezzlement since it requires intent to steal.
- Entrapment: A government agency compelled you to commit embezzlement. Similar to duress, except that the consequences were coming from a figure of governmental authority.
- Good Faith: This argues that you acted in good faith. What happened with the money may have been unfortunate, but it was not your intention to steal.
What’s Should I Do If I’m Charged With Embezzlement?
The most important thing to do when charged with a crime like embezzlement is to speak to an attorney with experience in white-collar crimes and theft crimes. These cases exist at the intersection of the criminal and business world, and an experienced attorney will be equipped to help you prepare a defense.