You have access to your business’s petty cash fund. You give into the temptation to take some bills off of the top for your own personal use. Eventually, someone notices that money is missing, and you are charged with embezzlement. Why isn’t this considered theft?
Taking property that was entrusted to you
Theft involves the taking of property that isn’t yours. When you take property that you were given control over, it’s embezzlement. Using the above example, if you went into a random office and took the petty cash fund, it’s theft. If you were entrusted with the petty cash fund, and you use it for an unauthorized purpose, it’s embezzlement.
Breaking the crime down into its respective elements, embezzlement occurs when:
- One person is granted lawful possession of another person’s property
- That property is taken for personal reasons
- The person who took the property does not intend to return the property
Embezzlement does not have to involve money. Taking workplace laptops or company cars is also a form of embezzlement.
It can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor
Under Florida law, embezzlement may be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the value of the property that was allegedly stolen. While the potential consequences of either type of charge vary, both are serious.
Building a defense against criminal charges
You can raise defenses against embezzlement charges. For example, a good faith belief that the property was yours. You can also argue that you were given consent to use the property however you saw fit. You may also have some constitutional defenses. You should discuss your options with a skilled professional.