Simply put, embezzlement is theft. It involves the theft or larceny of monetary or property assets over which the thief exercises some lawful element of control as a result of some type of employment responsibility or fiduciary duty. A fiduciary duty is simply the legal obligation of one party to act in the best interests of another, and most professionals that exercise control over someone else’s property have a fiduciary duty to care for that property. These professionals include, but are not limited to: financial advisors, accountants, lawyers, tax preparers, stock brokers, bank employees, and bondsmen. In addition, many non-professionals are given access to someone else’s money or property in order to manage it for the individual or group’s best interest. These people include family members, professionals, and volunteers working with sums of money. For example, any volunteer organization that handles funds probably has a board of directors that can exercise some control over those funds; misappropriation of that money would also fall into the embezzlement category.
Embezzlement falls into two broad groups of crimes. In the first group, the embezzler takes property over which he or she exercises direct control, such as a bank teller pocketing money in a bank transaction. In the second group, the embezzler does not have actual physical control over the victim’s property, but manipulate bank or other financial accounts. Large financial schemes fall into the second group and can go undetected for years.
There are four basic elements to the charge of embezzlement: a fiduciary relationship; the control over the stolen property was a result of the fiduciary relationship; the property was wrongfully transferred to another person; and the actions were intentional. Therefore, the nature and extent of the relationship between the parties becomes critical in determining whether a crime will be charged as a simple theft or larceny or as embezzlement.