Embezzlement is a form of white-collar crime involving the theft of money or a thing of value entrusted to the individual, usually in a position of trust or responsibility. When embezzlement involves federal funds or interstate activities, the federal government can initiate criminal charges. Federal embezzlement charges are extremely serious and require the services of an experienced federal white-collar defense lawyer.
Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law in Tampa, represents federal white-collar defendants in cases involving embezzlement and related financial crimes. This blog post explains the federal statutes covering criminal embezzlement, the penalties for federal embezzlement, and the applicable statute of limitations.
We also describe some of the most effective defense strategies that may prevent a conviction or mitigate the defendant’s legal responsibility. If you have questions about federal embezzlement charges or need to discuss your own case, call Stechschulte Nell today.
Understanding Federal Embezzlement Charges
The federal embezzlement statute (18 USC §641 through 18 USC §670) criminalizes the theft by embezzlement (or other form of theft) from the Unites States, or any department or agency of the government, of any record, voucher, money, or thing of value, or any property being made under contract for the United States.
But the almost unlimited number of scenarios in which someone might embezzle funds or property covered by this statute led to the law specifying specific penalty ranges for embezzlement when it is committed by individuals in particular positions of responsibility.
Examples of Federal Embezzlement and Applicable Penalties
- Financial Institutions: Embezzlement by employees of federally insured banks or credit unions, involving theft or misappropriation of customer funds – Up to 30 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $1,000,000. (If under $1,000 in value, then up to 1 year in prison.)
- Government Employees: Embezzlement by federal government employees, including theft of government property, mishandling of funds, or fraudulent reimbursements – Up to 10 years in federal prison or fined, or both. (If under $1,000 in value, then up to 1 year in prison.)
- Court Officers: Embezzlement by any U.S. marshal, clerk, receiver, trustee, deputy, assistant, or employee of such officer – Fined up to two times the amount embezzled and up to 10 years in federal prison. (If under $1,000 in value, then up to 1 year in prison.)
- Bank examiners: Embezzlement by a bank examiner or assistant examiner – Up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine (If under $1,000 in value, then up to 1 year in prison.)
- Holders of Employee Benefit Plan Funds: Embezzlement by any person from any employee welfare benefit plan or employee pension benefit plan, or of any fund connected therewith, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than five years, or both – Up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine.
- Nonprofit Organizations: Embezzlement by individuals managing nonprofits that receive federal grants or funding – Up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine.
Statutes of Limitations for Federal Embezzlement
Statutes of limitations specify the time frame within which the government can file an indictment or criminal complaint against an individual for a specific crime. Most federal crimes fall under the general rule that provides for a 5-year statute of limitations. For federal embezzlement and certain other federal offenses, Congress enacted special statutes of limitations:
- Embezzlement from banks and other financial institutions. The government may bring charges for up to 10 years from the date of the offense.
Extension of the Statute of Limitation
Under some circumstances, the statute of limitations can be tolled or extended. Two of the most common grounds for extending the statute’s expiration is when a person leaves the jurisdiction where the offense would be prosecuted. Under 18 USC §3290, “No statute of limitations shall extend to any person fleeing from justice.”
The prosecution usually needs to prove that the defendant fled the jurisdiction with the intent to avoid prosecution. However, some federal courts have held that mere absence from the jurisdiction will extend the statute.
Continuing crimes are another instance in which the statute of limitations can be extended, including in some embezzlement cases. Suppose someone begins to embezzle funds in January of 2010, but continued doing so with regularity until 2014.
If the federal prosecutor proves the embezzlement was a continuing crime beginning in 2010 and only ending in 2014, then a December 2023 indictment may be upheld because it was brought within 10 years from the 2014 embezzlement activity.
Effective Defense Strategies Against Federal Embezzlement Charges
An experienced federal embezzlement defense lawyer with a history of successfully representing federal defendants in white-collar prosecutions is critical to an effective defense. The best federal criminal defense lawyers know the best strategies to use when confronting the individual facts in each case.
Some of the most effective defense strategies include the following:
- Challenging the Legality of the Evidence
One common defense strategy is to challenge the manner in which the prosecution obtained their evidence. Unless federal investigators and other key prosecution officers followed the constitutionally approved search and seizure procedures, the evidence collected may not be admissible in court. Detailed scrutiny must be applied to the methods by which the government obtained each document of evidence.
- Lack of Intent
Embezzlement charges always hinge on proving criminal intent or knowledge. Your defense may involve demonstrating that you had no intention to commit a crime, lacked the requisite intent to defraud, or that any actions taken were inadvertent.
- Establishing Ownership or Authority
In some cases, a defendant may argue that they had ownership rights or authority over the funds or property in question. This could be based on their role within an organization, job responsibilities, or contractual agreements.
- Statute of Limitations Defense
If the government has filed charges after the applicable statute of limitations has expired, a smart defense attorney will move to have the case dismissed because the charges are time-barred.
- Negotiating a Plea Deal
In certain situations, negotiating a plea deal with federal prosecutors may be the most viable option for achieving the most favorable result. This could involve pleading guilty to a lesser offense or agreeing to restitution in exchange for reduced charges or sentencing recommendations.
Federal Embezzlement Defense
If you are under investigation or you have been charged with a federal embezzlement offense, or another white-collar crime, contact a trustworthy, experienced, and skilled federal criminal defense attorney in Tampa.
Contact Florida’s Federal Defense Law Firm Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law at 813-280-1244 for a case review today.