Times are tough, and family finances are rocky. The country is recovering from the worst financial downturn in decades. A person who works with money in a position of trust is sometime tempted in a moment of weakness to “borrow” some of that money. After all, there is so much money – and the “borrower” promises herself that she’ll pay it back as soon as possible. She doesn’t intend to “steal” that money. But this easy five-finger loan is simple to replicate and doing it again and again is an easy way to make ends meet. For example, just last month, the Cuyahoga Falls Library’s former deputy fiscal officer was accused of embezzling nearly $350,000, money she had embezzled from cash payments over a period of several years.
What is embezzlement?
Embezzlement is a form of theft which can happen anywhere, and be committed by anyone entrusted with someone else’s money – a bank teller, a clerk in a store, a CFO of a major corporation, a trustee of a trust, a lawyer handling a client trust account. The money might be taken in small cash increments or through the misuse of a credit card, or through fraudulent transfers of money to the embezzler’s personal accounts. The amounts taken can mount up rapidly into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. One growing phenomenon is the embezzlement of funds by caretakers from the elderly or developmentally disabled adults, one of the most vulnerable segments of society. Ohio law provides for substantial jail as punishment for even the slightest embezzlement from these vulnerable victims.
Defenses to embezzlement
Most often, the employee or trustee who succumbed to the temptation to “borrow” the money entrusted to him never intended to keep it permanently and planned to repay it as soon as possible. That is not a defense – even if the money is repaid, it does not matter. The crime is complete when the money is taken, and the intent to return or actual return might mitigate punishment to some extent but will not result in dismissal of the criminal charges.
Note that there is often a question as to the identity of the embezzler. If money has gone missing from a business or from an account, it is important to explore who else had access to those funds.