Legal Term Tuesday: Embezzlement

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Legal Term Tuesday: Embezzlement

Legal Term Tuesday: Embezzlement

Justin Lavelle
March 16, 2016

As a close relative of fraud, embezzlement is a particularly nasty crime as it involves the violation of trust. This type of crime often implicates people in high places who manage assets for the common good, as well as employees and business partners. But is embezzlement a felony or a misdemeanor? And how will it appear on a public record? Read on to find out.

According to the Free Dictionary by Farlex, embezzlement can be defined as “the fraudulent conversion of another’s property by a person who is in a position of trust, such as an agent or employee.” The entry goes on to distinguish embezzlement from its sister crime, swindling, in that a swindle is based on a lie or trick to obtain property, whereas embezzlement is based on the misuse of a position of trust. Embezzlement evolved as a distinct crime from larceny, the latter of which relies on the “felonious, trespassory taking of property at the outset.”

Embezzlement cases are wide ranging and can potentially implicate anyone from a high-ranking politician to a part-time dollar store clerk. Anyone who is entrusted with supervising funds or property that does not belong to them and then misdirects the property either for themselves or a third-party is potentially culpable.

Specific examples of types of embezzlement schemes include siphoning, where front line employees of a store or restaurant scheme to pocket a portion of the establishment’s proceeds. Falsifying payroll records in another example of embezzlement. Yet another example is lapping, or skimming incoming customer payments or donations and falsifying such records to cover up the crime, according to the law office of Geoffrey G. Nathan.

A kickback can also be a form of embezzlement, often found in government corruption cases, where a broker is rewarded for arranging a business transaction with public money, according to Wikipedia.

Much like larceny, embezzlement is charged by the degree of value of the property stolen, and can end up being charged as either a felony or misdemeanor charge, according to Both such charges will remain on an individual’s public record unless it is successfully expunged.

Famous examples of embezzlement include the Bernie Madoff case, fellow Ponzi schemer Allen Stanford and former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay, according to

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.