When does theft become embezzlement?

Not all types of theft are created equal. Some forms of theft are more serious than others and therefore, carry stricter penalties. In fact, some forms of theft are so serious that the crime may level up from a state crime to a federal offense. One such type of theft is embezzlement. If you face embezzlement charges, you may wonder if the charges carry any weight. The answer all depends on the circumstances surrounding the alleged crime. 

According to FindLaw, the federal government created the crime of embezzlement to fill a loophole in the theft laws of old English law. In English law, theft requires trespass. However, when embezzlement occurs, trespass does not, as embezzlement refers to the taking of money or property by someone who had lawful possession of it. 

The definition of embezzlement is simple. Embezzlement occurs when a person entrusted with another’s money or property takes or converts it for his or her own use and with no intention of giving it back. Persons who commonly commit embezzlement are employees, business partners, fiduciaries and contract workers. These people have been granted access to property or funds for the purpose of monitoring, managing or using them for the owner’s best interests. 

To prove embezzlement, the plaintiff must establish the existence of four essential elements. The first is one party’s reliance on another. The second is that the defendant acquired the property through his or her relationship with the owner. The third is that the defendant took or transferred the property for his or her personal gain. The fourth and final element is that the defendant acted intentionally.