Embezzlement

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps
 
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The fraudulent conversion of another's property by a person who is in a position of trust, such as an agent or employee.

Embezzlement is distinguished from swindling in that swindling involves wrongfully obtaining property by a false pretense, such as a lie or trick, at the time the property is transferred, which induces the victim to transfer to the wrongdoer title to the property.

Nature

There was no crime of embezzlement under the COMMON LAW. It is a statutory crime that evolved from LARCENY. Whereas larceny requires a felonious trespassory taking of property at the outset, embezzlement is a wrongful appropriation subsequent to an originally lawful taking. Embezzlement is, therefore, a modification of larceny designed to cover certain fraudulent acts that do not come within its scope. Although they are mutually exclusive crimes, larceny and embezzlement do overlap slightly under statutes in some states.

Embezzlement was created by the English legislature, which designated specific persons who might be liable for the offense. These were essentially persons entrusted with another's property, such as agents, attorneys, bankers, and corporate officers.

The English definition of the offense is followed in the United States. Statutes do not usually list the persons who might be liable but, instead, generally describe the offender as a person entrusted with, or in possession of, another's property.

Property

The type of property that must be converted is governed by statute. Generally, property is defined as including money, goods, chattels, or anything of value. Intangible PERSONAL PROPERTY; COMMERCIAL PAPER, such as checks, promissory notes, bonds, or stocks; and written documents, such as deeds or contracts, may also be the subject of embezzlement.

Under some statutes, property consists of anything that can be the subject of larceny. In other states, however, the property requirement for embezzlement is broader. For example, the statute might punish the conversion of both real and personal property.

In some states, the embezzlement of public property or public funds is a separate offense. The offense is characterized by the manner in which the money is received. A court clerk who receives bail money is a recipient of public money and the person can be liable if such money is wrongfully converted by him or her.

The property subject to embezzlement must have some value, even though value is not an element of the offense. Although a check without a required endorsement does not have value, the fact that the endorsement can be forged gives it sufficient value to make it a subject of embezzlement.

Elements

Statutes governing the offense vary widely throughout the states. To determine exactly what elements comprise the offense, it is necessary to examine the particular statute applicable.

Elements common to embezzlement are as follows: (1) the property must belong to a person other than the accused, such as an employer or...

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