Embezzlement is often thought of as "white collar crime." When people imagine the typical embezzlement defendant, they might think of a financial adviser who is accused of misappropriating his wealthy clients' money. And indeed, such an individual could be charged with embezzlement. But under Nevada law, a person can be charged with embezzlement under many different circumstances. Read below to learn about the definition of embezzlement, and how this offense is different than larceny or theft. Then read about the possible punishment for an embezzlement conviction as well as how a criminal defense attorney handles an embezzlement case.
WHAT IS EMBEZZLEMENT?
Perhaps the easiest way to understand embezzlement is by understanding the difference between embezzlement and theft (or larceny). If you take property from another person with the intent to keep that property permanently, then that's a theft or larceny. But if you originally had permission to hold on to the property before deciding to steal it, then that would be considered embezzlement rather than theft.
To be more technical, under NRS 205.300, embezzlement occurs when a person is a "bailee" of any money or property and then steals that money or property for his own use. What is a bailee? A bailee is a person you entrust money or property to. The bailee doesn't have any ownership of the money or property. He simply has a temporary right to hold onto or otherwise possess the money or property for some limited purpose, because he has permission from the true owner of the money or property.
One common example of a bailee is a valet who parks someone's car. The valet has a right to possess the car temporarily because he was given permission to do so by the car's owner. If the valet steals the car, then he has committed embezzlement. There are many other examples of bailees. If you board a dog at kennel, the kennel owner is a bailee. If you store goods in a storage facility, the storage facility owner is a bailee. And so on.
Many embezzlement cases involve employees who are tasked with handling money for their employer. For instance, an employee of a retail store may have the responsibility of dropping off the day's cash receipts to the bank for deposit. If that employee steals those cash receipts, he has committed embezzlement. If, on the other hand, the employee simply reached into the register and stole a handful of cash, he would have committed larceny. The difference is that in the first example, the employee had permission as a bailee to temporarily possess the money. Of course, in practice, whether the employee is charged with larceny or embezzlement doesn't really matter, as the potential punishments are the same. Read about the potential punishments below.
POTENTIAL PUNISHMENT FOR EMBEZZLEMENT
Pursuant to NRS 205.300(1), embezzlement is "punished in the manner prescribed by law for the stealing or larceny of property of the kind and name of the money, goods, property or effects so taken, converted, stolen, used or appropriated." In other words, embezzlement is punished the same way as larceny, and like larceny, the potential punishment gets more severe as the value of the property increases.
Therefore, if the value of the property embezzled is less than $650, the offense is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. If the value of the embezzled property is $650 or more but less than $3,500, then the offense is a category C felony punishable by 1 to 5 years in a Nevada prison and a $10,000 fine. If the value of the embezzled property is $3,500 or more, the offense is a category B felony, with a potential punishment of 1 to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
In addition to any other punishment, the court will order restitution in the amount of the embezzled property (if the money or property wasn't already recovered). Restitution is different than a fine. A fine is punitive and the defendant pays that money to the court, whereas restitution pays the victim back for the value of the property taken.
How is the value of the property determined? Pursuant to NRS 205.0831, the value of stolen property is "the fair market value of the property" at the time of the offense. One special consideration for determining property value in embezzlement cases, however, is that if money or property is misappropriated in separate acts, the value of the total property taken can be added up for the purpose of increasing punishment. That is, pursuant to NRS 205.300(2), the value of all property taken in any six month period against the same victim can be combined to make the offense a felony. So for example, if a retail manager skims from bank deposits over a six month period, but only embezzles small amounts of money each time, the offense can still be punishable as a felony if the total value of the misappropriated funds is more than $650.
DEFENDING EMBEZZLEMENT CHARGES
If you have been charged with embezzlement, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer to protect yourself against the harsh penalties that can result if you are convicted of this offense. A conviction for embezzlement can result in serious consequences, including incarceration, but an embezzlement conviction can also have other consequences. Convictions for crimes must be disclosed to employers or may be discovered through background checks, and an embezzlement conviction can be particularly damaging to a person who applies for future jobs or professional licenses.
All criminal charges must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecutor. This is a high standard. And if the charges cannot be proven to this high standard, then you are entitled to be acquitted. In many instances, even when there is substantial evidence of guilt, charges such as this may be negotiated to avoid harsh criminal consequences or permanent black marks on your record.
Potential defenses always vary with the facts of your individual case, so call or text me for a free consultation. I have helped many people charged with embezzlement and other theft offenses in Las Vegas and throughout Southern Nevada.
By Michael Pandullo