Embezzlement is a crime in which a person steals funds that have been entrusted to him or her by another party. A common white-collar crime, embezzlement can take years to ferret out, as embezzlers are often skilled at covering their tracks. Embezzlement may be charged as a civil or criminal offense, and may merit penalties such as fines, seizure of assets, and jail time. Factors that can affect an embezzlement sentence include the amount of money stolen, past criminal history, and whether the embezzler worked in the public or private sector.
The amount of funding misused or stolen by the defendant is often a primary concern in determining an embezzlement sentence. In some jurisdictions, a convicted embezzler may be subject to pay restitution to victims in the amount of the money stolen. In addition, he or she may also have to pay fines to the government, sometimes up to a maximum of double the amount stolen. Not surprisingly, this leads to financial ruin for many convicted embezzlers. With smaller amounts, fines may be limited to equal that of the amount stolen, but the convicted defendant may still be responsible for paying restitution to any victims.
Past criminal history can have a major impact on an embezzlement sentence. Defendants with a long history of fraudulent behavior, theft, or other embezzlement convictions may find themselves unlikely to receive leniency from the court. Though few regions have laws that demand higher punishments for defendants with a historical pattern of conviction, some judges and juries may look at a long criminal history as being indicative of future behavior, and aim to create as harsh an embezzlement sentence as is legally permissible.
Circumstances of the crime may also engender judges or juries to mitigate punishment in some cases. If an embezzler has no criminal record and was motivated by desperate circumstances, such as needing funds for a health crisis, the court may choose to give an embezzlement sentence that does not include extensive jail time or create severe financial hardship. Community service and restitution may be alternatives to jail and maximum fines in some cases.
Many embezzlement crimes are subject to a ticking clock known as a statute of limitations. This sets a limit on how long a plaintiff has to bring a case against a defendant; it is generally meant to ensure that punishments are relevant to the current state of affairs. Statutes of limitations vary between regions and may also be extended if the region employs the “discovery rule,” which starts the clock on the statute at the time when the crime is discovered instead of when it is committed. In some regions, the embezzlement of public money is not subject to a statute of limitations.