Theft takes different forms. Embezzlement is a particular type of theft because it involves someone abusing a professional relationship with another person to steal money or property.
If you serve as a fiduciary, you should understand what embezzlement is and how to avoid the appearance of it. FindLaw provides some background information on how embezzlement involves the actions of a fiduciary.
The nature of a fiduciary relationship
There are various kinds of fiduciary duties. You may help an elderly relative who cannot manage personal finances due to age or illness. You could serve as a trustee, an accountant or an estate executor. You might qualify as a fiduciary just because you handle money or property for an employer.
These relationships consist of someone relying on the fiduciary to take care of assets, which could involve property of high value. Embezzlement occurs when the fiduciary violates that trust for personal gain.
Elements of embezzlement
Generally, a person is guilty of embezzlement for a collection of reasons. The fiduciary must have gained money or property specifically because of the fiduciary relationship. The embezzler could have personally acquired ownership of the client’s property or given the property to another person. Embezzlement can also involve concealing or ruining the client’s property.
Sometimes a fiduciary takes property temporarily, returning it later on. However, embezzlement can take place even if the theft is not permanent, so “borrowing” property may not serve as a defense.
Embezzlement is a serious offense that can involve hefty fines and years of prison time if convicted, so it is important to understand your options. Remember that an embezzler must intend to take property, so accounting errors or other mistakes may not constitute a criminal offense.