A person has committed embezzlement (a.k.a. theft by conversion) when he or she lawfully or through agreement takes the money or property of another party and converts it to his or her own use. The crime most commonly occurs in situations where there is an implied trust between two or more parties, and the party that receives the money or goods breaches that trust by utilizing what is received in a manner that was not agreed upon. For example, there is an implied trust between a bank, the bank’s teller, and a customer of the bank that whatever money or goods the customer gives to the teller will be deposited into the customer’s bank or safe deposit box, not the teller’s. If the teller chooses to take the money and run, then he or she has breached the implied trust with the customer as well as the bank.
The Statutory Punishment
When a theft offense involves property valued at $500 or less, the crime is punishable as a misdemeanor. Punishment for a misdemeanor includes a fine of no more than $1,000 and imprisonment not to exceed 12 months.
If the theft offense involves property valued at more than $500, the crime may be punishable as a felony. Felony embezzlement carries a sentence of imprisonment of at least one year but not more than ten years, and is also punishable by fine up to $10,000.
In the event that any personal property is not returned as provided for in the lease or rental agreement and the court orders the lessor or renter to pay replacement costs, replacement costs shall include but not be limited to:
- The market value of the personal property
- The value on the date when the conversion occurred; or
The value on the date of the trial
- All rental charges from the date the rental agreement was executed until the date of the trial or the date that the property was recovered, if recovered
- Interest on the unpaid balance each month at the current legal rate from the date the court orders the lessor or renter to pay replacement costs until the date the judgment is satisfied in full.
If as a part of the order of the court the lessor or renter is placed on probation, supervision of said probation shall not be terminated until all replacement costs, fees, charges, penalties, interest, and other charges are paid in full. All payments shall be made to the appropriate court of jurisdiction and the court shall make distribution to the owner within 30 days of receipt.
In the event that the owner incurs any expenses in the process of locating a lessor or renter who did not return any personal property according to the lease or rental agreement, the court shall provide that the lessor or renter reimburse the owner for those expenses which may include, but not be limited to, credit reports, private detective fees, investigation fees, fees charged by a law enforcement agency for such services as police reports, background checks, fees involved with swearing out a warrant for incarceration, and any other bona fide expenses.
If you are an officer or employee of a government or of a financial institution, under certain circumstances, there is a presumption that theft by conversion has already taken place. What does this mean for you as a defendant? Instead of the State taking the responsibility, the burden shifts to you to prove that embezzlement has not been committed. Embezzlement is one of several charges classified as a theft crime, and the elements of the crimes can often become convoluted. An embezzlement conviction could ruin someone’s reputation as a trustworthy person and would likely make it very difficult for a person to gain employment in positions where financial trust is essential.
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