Embezzlement (also known as “employee theft” or “financial fraud”) is a unique theft crime because the defendant is someone who actually has the consent of the owner of the money or property to handle or manage it. The crime of embezzlement occurs when the defendant takes the owner’s money or property and uses it for personal gain. For example, a bookkeeper or an accountant for a small business usually has permission to handle the company’s money. However, it is when the employer finds discrepancies in the financial books that the account manager becomes accused of embezzlement.
Punishment for Embezzlement in Florida
The punishment for embezzlement depends on the value of the property taken.
- First-degree felony. A defendant who embezzles money or property valued at $100,000 or more could face a first-degree felony charge. He or she could also be subject to a fine of up to $10,000 and/or a prison sentence of up to 30 years.
- Second-degree felony. If the stolen money or property is between $20,000 but less than $100,000, the defendant may face up to 15 years in prison and/or a fine up to $10,000.
- Third-degree felony. The crime of embezzling assets valued at $300 or more but less than $20,000 carries penalties of a fine up to $5,000 and/or a jail term up to five years.
- First and Second Degree Misdemeanors. These are the potential charges for embezzlement of money or property valued at $100 or more but less than $300. Punishment may include fines of up to $1,000, up to a one-year jail term, or both.
Possible Defenses to Embezzlement Accusations
There can be many non-criminal explanations as to why a small business is missing money or property. The employee may have honestly believed that he or she was entitled to the money as reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses legitimately associated with the employer’s business. Another reason why the balance sheet does not add up is that the owner impliedly expanded the employee’s responsibilities to manage the money beyond the original scope of employment. In any event, a forensic accounting expert can search through the financial books to find legitimate explanations for missing money or property.
If You Are Accused of Embezzlement
If your employer suspects you of embezzlement, you should stop all suspected illegal activity no matter how justified you feel about your actions. You should not talk to your employer or anyone else at the company if they question you. You should not talk to your co-workers to try to convince them that you have not done anything wrong to gain their support. This behavior could be construed as witness tampering. Under no circumstance should you speak to law enforcement.
Once the employer gives you even the smallest inkling that you might be a suspected embezzler, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. He or she can evaluate the strength of your case and advise you as to how law enforcement and the state attorney will likely deal with the allegations against you. An experienced lawyer can also advise you as to what your options are as to opposed to criminal punishment, such as returning the money or property in full.