Embezzlement is a kind of property theft. It occurs when a defendant, who was entrusted to manage or monitor someone else’s money or property, steals all or part of that money or property for the defendant’s personal gain. The key is that the defendant had legal access to another’s money or property, but not legal ownership of it. Taking the money or property for the defendant’s own gain is stealing; when combined with the fact that this stealing was also a violation of a special position of trust, you have the unique crime of embezzlement.
Embezzlement can occur in a variety of circumstances. For example, a bank teller has legal access to client money, and is trusted to handle but not take that money. Officers and employees of companies can also embezzle funds belonging to the company, as can family members caring for a relative, professionals like lawyers or board members who handle client or investor money, or anyone in a position of trust with regard to someone else’s money or property.
For more information about embezzlement, see Embezzlement: Penalties and Sentences.
How is Embezzlement Punished in Montana?
In Montana, embezzlement is punished according to the value of the money or property stolen. If the embezzlement involved a series of thefts as part of a common plan or scheme, the court may combine the total value of the money or property involved for purposes of determining which fines and prison time apply, as described below. (Mont. Code Ann. § 45-6-301.)
- Money or property worth $1,500 or less. Penalties include a fine of up to $1,500, up to six months in jail, or both. A defendant with two or more prior theft-related convictions will face a fine of up to $1,500, at least 30 days (and up to six months) in jail, or both.
- More than $1,500, but not more than $10,000. Penalties include a fine of up to $50,000, up to ten years in prison, or both.
- More than $10,000. Penalties include a fine of up to $50,000, at least one year (and up to ten years) in prison, or both. The judge may also order probation with the condition that the defendant pay restitution to the victim. If the defendant does not successfully pay the victim back for the money or property stolen, the fines and prison sentence will then be imposed.
An Important Note on Local Legal Representation
If you have been charged with a property theft or embezzlement-related offense, consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. While the penalties and consequences of property theft charges are governed by statutory law, only a local criminal defense attorney can tell you how strong the case against you appears to be, and how cases like yours tend to be handled by prosecutors and judges in your courthouse. An experienced lawyer can also advise you as to possible alternatives to criminal punishment, such as paying back the money involved, along with court fees and other costs, or some other alternative that your judge might consider.