White-collar crimes are non-violent, and alleged offenders can be upstanding members of society. Regardless of this, they are taken very seriously in the criminal justice system. Often, prosecutors want to make a strong example of the accused, attempting to deter such behavior in others.
Any criminal charge is scary, but white-collar accusations can be especially frightening. The accused, usually an affluent person with no prior record, suddenly finds themselves looking at prison time. They could be sharing space with violent, hardened criminals, feeling helpless.
Embezzlement, a white-collar crime, comes with steep penalties. In this article, we will define the crime and present defense strategies for use in court.
Embezzlement is a form of theft. It is also classifiable as a misappropriation of funds. If you worked at a bank and found a way to funnel money into your account, that is not embezzlement. To be embezzlement, the crime must involve money that was entrusted to you. When you read stories of an accountant or manager who stole millions from their celebrity client, that is an embezzlement accusation.
Penalties of Embezzlement
In Tennessee, charges and penalties for embezzling are directly related to how much money was taken.
- Property worth $500 or less is a Class A misdemeanor. Incarceration lasts up to 11 months, and fines can go up to $2,500.
- Property worth between $500 and $1,000 is a Class E felony. Incarceration between 1 and 6 years, and fines can go up to $3,000.
- Property worth between $1,000 and $10,000 is a Class D felony. Incarceration between 2 and 12 years, and fines can go up to $5,000.
- Property worth between $10,000 and $60,000 is a Class C felony. Incarceration between 3 and 15 years, and fines can go up to $10,000.
- Property worth between $60,000 and $250,000 is a Class B felony. Incarceration between 8 and 15 years, and fines can go up to $25,000.
Defenses Against Embezzlement Accusations
If you’ve been charged with this crime, secure the services of an attorney right away. Explain your situation to them in detail. Leave nothing out. In your fear, worry, and doubt, there may be an element you missed regarding your situation. A good lawyer can pick up on those details and find ways to craft a credible defense for you. Here are some defense strategies that may help preserve your innocence.
Scrutinize the Evidence
Financial crimes are complicated. To successfully commit the crime takes planning. Criminals must find ways to move the funds and cover their tracks. Because of this, investigating the crime is even more complicated. It can take authorities weeks or months to build a case before even warranting an arrest, much less proving the charge in court. The complexity of the case and the evidence can work in your favor. You may be able to simply explain that something may only appear to be illegal, but that is a misinterpretation of what happened.
Show a Lack of Intent
Intent is an important part of a criminal case, especially in a white-collar crime. It’s not enough to charge someone on a technicality. The prosecution must show that the accused willfully, intentionally committed the crime.
Perhaps you did technically break the law, but you have every intention of correcting your action. For example, it may have simply been easier to move money into your personal account before transferring it to its destination. Before you had the chance to move it, the authorities swooped in and accused you of theft.
Due to the complexity of the finance world, mistakes can happen to even the most skilled professionals. You may be able to prove that even if you did break the law, it was completely by accident. You are particularly vulnerable to mistakes when you are under stress. Perhaps you were going through a divorce at the time, and your work suffered. Maybe you were under pressure at the job, and you were rushed to complete transactions before they were ready. Situations like these breed mistakes at work.
You Were Coerced
When someone feels forced to commit a crime, they can argue that they were “under duress.” Finance can be a high-pressure world. Bosses and CEOs want things to happen now, and they may not be too concerned about who they hurt. If you were under pressure from your employer to misappropriate funds, you may be able to argue this fact in court.
Furthermore, you may have been threatened into illegal behavior. Bad guys use crafty financial tricks to hide or move their ill-gotten gains. You may have been forced to embezzle someone else’s funds out of sheer self-preservation.
Questioning Police Methods
Entrapment is a complicated legal term. The difference between entrapment and a sting operation can be paper thin. Police have the freedom to go undercover, lie about being cops, and set people up for arrests. What they cannot do, however, is lure someone into illegal behavior.
Entrapment in an embezzlement case would look like this:
An undercover officer approaches someone with a “can’t-lose” plan to rip off a client. That person refuses to participate. Increasingly, the officer grooms this person to give it a shot. They fill the victim’s head with promises of “never getting caught” and “no one will ever find out.” They even demonstrate how easy it would be. Eventually, the victim caves, embezzles some funds, and finds themselves arrested.
Entrapment is just one of many ways authorities can step beyond their legal boundaries. They may be guilty of illegal search and seizure or surveillance without a warrant. Perhaps they have a warrant, but they go beyond its guidelines. During discovery, your lawyer may be able to uncover shady methods used by police to make an arrest. If this is so, your entire charge could be thrown out in court.
If you’ve been accused of misappropriating funds through embezzlement, contact our firm today. We may be able to represent you and help defend you in court. For a free consultation, reach out online or call us at (731) 256-0023.