Embezzlement is a white collar crime that can result in companies being bankrupt, families having their savings wiped out, and investors using large quantities of money. Conversely, many people end up caught up in embezzlement schemes without even knowing they are involved in criminal activity. Continue reading for a definition of embezzlement in Texas, penalties for embezzlement under Texas law, and potential defenses for embezzlement.
What is embezzlement?
Embezzlement is when an individual is trusted to manage or safeguard funds for a company or an investor, and uses the funds for reasons outside of the intended purpose. In embezzlement cases, this money is frequently taken for personal use by the embezzler.
Cases of embezzlement often involve diverting funds to accounts that seem to be authorized to receive transactions, creating fake bills and receipts to explain the missing currency, or collaborating with a third party who poses as a contractor or consultant and charges for services they never actually perform.
What are the penalties for embezzlement in Texas?
The penalties for embezzlement in Texas depend on how much was allegedly stolen. Other factors in the case can introduce additional charges, such as elder abuse, when the person being taken advantage of is an elderly individual having their personal funds managed.
In Texas, the basic penalties for embezzlement are:
- For property less than $50 in value — a fine of up to $500.
- For property between $50 and $500 in value — a fine of up to $2000 and/or up to 180 days in prison.
- For property between $500 and $1500 in value — a fine of up to $4000 and/or up to one year in prison.
- For property between $1500 and $20,000 in value — a fine of up to $10,000 and/or between 180 days and two years in prison.
- For property between $20,000 and $100,000 in value — a fine of up to $10,000 and between two and twenty years in prison.
- For property greater than $200,000 in value — a fine of up to $10,000 and five to ninety-nine years in prison
These penalties are applicable in criminal court, but embezzlers may also have civil lawsuits filed against them by their alleged victims. In these cases, the alleged offenders will have to pay additional restitution and other fines to their victims.
Also, if the victim of the alleged embezzlement is an elderly person or a non-profit organization, these fees and prison sentences may be increased.
Defenses for embezzlement in Texas
As is the case with many white collar crimes, individuals often finds themselves caught up in schemes they did not know were occuring, or end up being charged with serious crimes for honest mistakes.
Here are five defenses that may be applicable to embezzlement cases in Texas.
- Insufficient evidence. At the federal level, 42% of embezzlement cases are dropped due to lack of evidence. While this defense may seem too good to be true, it is frequently successful.
- Absence of intent. To be charged with embezzlement, like most other crimes, the prosecution must show that you intended to commit the crime. You can therefore use absence of intent as a defense in some embezzlement cases. For example, making mistakes in calculations that resulted in a company or individual being deprived of their money lacks intent to commit embezzlement. Similarly, mistaking some portion of funds for your own or accidentally depositing money into the wrong account may show lack of intent. Absence of intent may also be a viable defense strategy in cases where the defendant was not aware that they were taking part in criminal activity. For example, if a firm was hired to manage funds for another company, employees at this firm may accidentally be complicit in embezzlement. However, ignorance of the law is not the same as absence of intent — not knowing that it is illegal to take from funds you are legally entrusted with for personal use will not hold up in court.
- Entrapment. This defense is more common at the federal level, but can still occur at the state level. In cases of entrapment, a government agency baits an individual into committing embezzlement (or another related white collar crime). In other words, the defendant was “set up” by the government for the crime in question. Prosecutors will often counter argue that the defendant would have commited the embezzlement anyways when this is used as a defense in court.
- Duress. Duress is rarely used as a defense strategy, but may be applicable in some cases. This is a viable defense strategy if you were forced to commit embezzlement by someone else. For example, management at the company you work for may threaten to take away your job if you do not comply with their orders to embezzle money.
Incapacity. Like insanity defenses, incapacity is rarely used in embezzlement cases because it is rarely successful. An incapacity defense would argue that for some reason, such as being on particular medications, you were not able to understand the actions you were committing at the time of the offense. Read more about Tacoma Lawyer.