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What is embezzlement?

Have you been accused of embezzlement, or do you know someone who has? Embezzlement is a serious crime in Michigan, punishable by large fines and possibly time in jail or prison. But what exactly are the authorities saying a person did when they accuse him or her of embezzlement?

Embezzlement is a theft crime. Specifically, it refers to a person taking assets that belong to another party that had entrusted the person with. Think of an accountant for a business who has access to the company’s checkbook, and writes checks to him- or herself out of it.

As in that example, many people accused of embezzlement have jobs that involve managing, monitoring or using another party’s money in that party’s best interests. This obviously requires a great deal of trust in the person put in charge of the money. Using those funds for personal benefit is a violation of that trust, and a form of white collar crime.

Embezzlement can involve a large, single misappropriation, or it can be a series of small, covert withdrawals. Either way, prosecutors generally must prove four elements beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction:

1. A fiduciary relationship, or a reliance on one party by the other, between the parties must have existed

2. The defendant acquired the property at issue through the relationship

3. The defendant obtained the property or transferred it to a third party

4. The defendant acted intentionally

If any one of these elements is in doubt, the jury cannot convict the defendant.

Anyone arrested on suspicion of embezzlement should not answer any questions from the police until they have spoken to a defense attorney first.

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