Embezzlement. The very word conjures images of high-dollar white collar crimes, in which an employee siphons hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions. While embezzlement, fraud, and other financial schemes certainly can be quite lucrative until the perpetrator gets caught, in reality, most incidents of embezzlement are actually much smaller.
Most people charged with embezzling money aren’t out to buy a luxury yacht or their own private island; rather, they are often people in dire financial straights, turning to theft to pay gambling debts, try to stave off foreclosure, or finance a shopping addiction. Often, these people truly believe that they will be able to repay any money they take before anyone even knows it is missing.
As one local case proves, a person can be charged with a crime even if they are not trying to hide the fact they are borrowing money, even if the amount taken is small, and even if the money truly is repaid.
The Sallisaw, Oklahoma, chief of police has been charged with embezzling public funds and has subsequently pleaded not guilty to the embezzlement charge.His alleged crime? Taking $60 from the city’s petty cash fund–money for which he left an “IOU” and which he subsequently repaid. Is borrowing money without authorization a crime, even if one notifies others that the money has been borrowed and even if he or she repays it?
State law defines embezzlement as follows:
Embezzlement is the fraudulent appropriation of property of any person or legal entity, legally obtained, to any use or purpose not intended or authorized by its owner, or the secretion of the property with the fraudulent intent to appropriate it to such use or purpose . . . (21 O.S. § 1451).
The law states that if a person uses any property (including money or physical property such as company cars or office supplies) in an unauthorized manner, he or she is guilty of embezzlement.
In 2011, an Oklahoma State Trooper in Sayre was accused of having sex with a teenage girl in his squad car. Because the police car was not his property, and because he was using it in a manner “not intended or authorized by its owner,” he was charged with embezzlement in addition to the sex crimes of which he was later convicted.
The penalties for embezzlement depend upon the value of the money or funds misappropriated:
- Less than $500 – Misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and/or fine of up to $1,000
- $500 to less than $1000 – Felony punishable by up to one year in jail, fine of up to $5,000 and restitution to the victim
- $1,000 to less than $25,000 – Felony punishable by up to five years in prison, fine of up to $5,000 and restitution to the victim
- $25,000 or more – Felony punishable by up to ten years in prison, fine of up to $10,000 and restitution to the victim
Under these guidelines, it appears as if the Sayre police chief would face the possibility of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine for borrowing $60. However, the state embezzlement law is particularly harsh against anyone who misappropriates public funds or property:
Any county or state officer, deputy or employee of such officer, who shall divert any money appropriated by law from the purpose and object of the appropriation, shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment in the State Penitentiary for a term not less than one (1) year nor more than ten (10) years, and a fine equal to triple the amount of money so embezzled and ordered to pay restitution to the victim . . . (21 O.S. § 1451[C]).
Can you be criminally charged for smuggling home Post-It Notes from your office? Yes. Will you be? Probably not, but it is a good idea to just buy your own supplies to use at home.