Embezzlement might make you think of some of the high-profile securities crimes, with big traders on Wall Street stealing money from their clients. The truth is, embezzlement is essentially just another word for theft by someone who’s been entrusted with money or property – which can even include livestock (a serious possibility if you’re in Texas)!

What does embezzlement mean in Texas?

In Texas, there is not a statute explicitly for embezzlement. Instead, the crime of embezzlement will fall under the laws which criminalize theft. Crimes of theft in Texas fall under the Texas Penal Code, Title 7, Chapter 31. The basic definition states that a person is guilty of this crime if he “unlawfully appropriates property with intent to deprive the owner of property.” (s. 31.03). Embezzlement often involves an individual who has legal access to money or property, but does not actually own it.

Some embezzlement examples are the bank teller who removes a customer’s money from their account, the cashier who pockets coins from a cash register, or the lawyer who takes off with client money. Basically, anyone who is entrusted with the management of someone else’s property and then takes it for themselves can face embezzlement charges in Texas.

Is embezzlement a felony or misdemeanor?

As with most other crimes, the classification of whether the conduct is a felony or misdemeanor depends on the severity of the act, or in this case, on the value of the property stolen. If the property is worth less than $100.00, then Texas classifies the crime as a class C misdemeanor. Some of the most serious offenses involve stolen property with values of over $300,000.00, which would constitute a felony in the first degree.

Is embezzlement a federal crime?

Federal courts do have jurisdiction over individuals who embezzle money, although the scope of their jurisdiction is more limited than that of state courts. For instance, to be liable under the federal statute, the property that the individual is accused of stealing must belong to the United States or any federal department or agency. This includes court officers who do not promptly deposit money into the registry of the court, bank officers or employees, and lending, credit or insurance institutions.

What is the average jail time for embezzlement?

As with the classification of crimes, the type of punishment an offender might receive depends on the value or type of the property stolen. The value is ascertained using either the fair market value of the property at the time of the incident or the cost of replacing the property shortly after the incident if the value cannot be determined. If there has been a series of actions, then the state is allowed to consider each act as one offense and aggregate the amount of property stolen in determining embezzlement penalties.

For smaller misdemeanor embezzlement, the penalty is very often a monetary fine, up to a year in jail, or both. For any embezzlement of property that is valued between $1,500.00 and $20,000.00, it constitutes a ‘state jail felony,’ meaning the maximum punishment for this embezzlement is up to two years in jail. A charge of first-degree embezzlement involves theft of over $300,000.00 in goods or services, and the defendant faces a state prison sentence of between five and ninety-nine years.

Embezzlement punishment can vary depending on other mitigating or aggravating factors. For example, if the victim was elderly, or a non-profit organization, then the sentence could be increased. The same goes if the defendant worked for the government. Chances are, the government worker defendant would also face federal charges. A first-time offender charged with embezzlement would face the same penalties, but given their good history, a judge might look more favorably on the individual and order less time in jail, depending on the severity of the crime.

What are the best defenses against embezzlement?

A good criminal defense attorney will be able to attempt to demonstrate that you were not acting with intent when moving funds. This means showing that you had permission to spend the funds, or you were not the person who actually appropriated the property.

Another great defense is if the conduct occurred several years ago. Prosecutors have only a limited amount of time for bringing charges against someone. For misdemeanor embezzlement, the state must file charges within two years the date of the conduct. If the value of the property qualifies it as a felony charge, then the state has five years within which to charge you. The statute of limitations is extended for more severe crimes. If a public servant embezzles government property over which they had control, they face a statute of limitations of up to 10 years. Embezzlement from a financial institution carries a limitations period of 7 years.

The best thing to do if you are charged with a crime of embezzlement is to speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney who can assert the best possible defense on your behalf. For a free, initial case evaluation, contact the Law Office of Paul Schiffer at 713-521-0059.