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.
In Michigan, embezzlement is punished according to the value or type of property stolen, with the possibility of increased penalties for defendants with previous felony convictions. (Mi. Comp. Laws Ann. § 750.174.)
The judge will aggregate the total worth of the money or property stolen when a defendant embezzles as part of a common plan or scheme. If the plan targets more than one person or entity (like a business, or government office), the judge may add together all money and property embezzled within a 12 month period. When the defendant’s embezzlement scheme targeted only one person or entity, the judge can add the value of all property stolen, without a time limit.
The defendant will then be charged and sentenced depending on the total worth of the money or property stolen, as described in the categories above. (Mi. Comp. Laws Ann. § 750.174(8).)
Any person holding public office who, in the person’s official capacity, embezzles money or property worth $50 or more, will face a fine of up to $5,000, up to ten years in prison, or both. (Mi. Comp. Laws Ann. § 750.175.)
Someone appointed by a judge as an administrator, executor, or guardian as part of probate proceedings, who embezzles any property or money from the estate (the money and property listed in the will), will face a fine of up to $5,000, up to ten years in prison, or both. An administrator, executor, or guardian who is ordered by the court to distribute any money or property from the estate, but who refuses to do so for 60 days or more, may also be charged with embezzlement. (Mi. Comp. Laws Ann. § 750.176.)
People who lend, sell, or lease property are prohibited from embezzling any personal property held by the defendant (such as a security deposit, or collateral to secure a loan). By law, someone holding this kind of property may keep or use it only in very specific circumstances. For example, someone leasing a building or apartment must keep all security deposits in a separate account (not, by contrast, mixed in with the owner's personal bank account), and only gains ownership of the deposit when certain conditions are met, which are spelled out in the rental contract (such as the tenant moving out with unpaid rent or leaving damage beyond normal wear and tear).
Penalties vary according to the amount embezzled, with increased fines and prison time for defendants with prior theft-related convictions. (Mi. Comp. Laws Ann. § 750.177.)
An employee of a bank, deposit company, trust company, or credit union who embezzles money or property, or any person who aids such an employee in doing so, will face up to 20 years in prison. (Mi. Comp. Laws Ann. § 750.180.)
An employee convicted of embezzling money or property from a warehouse or other holding area (including cargo vehicles), will face a fine of up to $5,000, up to four years in prison, or both. (Mi. Comp. Laws Ann. § 750.182.)
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.