Embezzlement in New Jersey

In 1895, the U.S. Supreme Court defined the crime of embezzlement as the misappropriation of someone else's property committed by a fiduciary. Common law did not specifically define this offense. The key distinction between embezzlement and other acts of theft or larceny is the perpetrator has a fiduciary relationship to the victim. A fiduciary relationship is one where there is some basis of trust established such as the executor or administrator of an estate or an agent or employee of an organization.

The FBI defines the offense similarly as “misapplication by an offender for his/her own use.” Their definition states that the theft may involve anything that has some value and that it is “entrusted to his/her care, custody, or control.” It is necessary to prove the following in an embezzlement offense according to federal code:

  • A relationship involving trust (fiduciary) existed between the defendant and some organization, agency or entity
  • The defendant cared for or possessed the property by “by virtue of his/her employment”
  • The actions of the defendant were unlawful and appropriated or converted the property for their use
  • The actions of the defendant deprived the rightful owner of controlling the property

Understanding Property

To fully comprehend the nature of the offense it is important to clarify the statutory definitions that relate to property. Property is anything with a perceived value that may be intangible. Movable property may be essentially that which may be relocated without being destroyed. Movable property is distinct from immovable property, such as a house. It is not physically possible (in most cases) to simply move a house to an alternate location without greatly altering its functionality and physical state.

Specific Intent

Proving the crime does require that it is proven that the act was intentional. It is not necessary to prove that the defendant intended to permanently deprive the owner of their property. New Jersey statute specifies that the act of depriving may involve withholding the property permanently or for an “extended period as to appropriate a substantial portion of its economic value.” A defendant may not assert that their actions were legal based on an intention to return the illegally taken property.

Facts Regarding Embezzlement

Crimes of embezzlement and other forms of white-collar criminal activity are more common in smaller businesses. Approximately 68% of these crimes occur within organizations with fewer than 500 employees. Organizations operating in the realm of financial services are the most commonly victimized; however, it occurs in all industries. Nearly 29% of cases involved a pattern of criminal behavior that existed for over a five-year period.

Grading of Theft Offenses in New Jersey

In (2C:20-2) of the statutes, the various penalties that may be imposed for theft offenses are addressed.

Second Degree

  • The total value involved in the theft exceeded $75,000
  • The stolen property was acquired through means of extortion
  • The stolen property was over one kilogram of a controlled substance(s)
  • If the property was in some form of governmental benefits; perhaps related to some federal program where the total value exceeded $75,000
  • The crime was committed by a fiduciary and the value exceeded $50,000.

Third Degree

  • The total value of the theft is between $50,000 and $75,000
  • Theft that involves property such as a firearm, aircraft, horse, motor vehicle, or domestic animal
  • The stolen item was a controlled substance in a quantity of less than one kilogram; the total value may be either unknown or under $75,000
  • The property is physically taken from someone's person
  • The crime is committed by a person in a position of trust (fiduciary) and the total value is under $50,000.
  • The theft involved threats or intimidation; these actions are such that they are not classified as acts of extortion
  • The stolen property was some form of public record
  • If the stolen property is in the form of governmental benefits; perhaps related to some federal program where the total value exceeded $50,000
  • If the stolen property was intended for use involving research--regardless of the value
  • The stolen property is a blank prescription
  • The stolen property is some form of access-related device
  • The stolen property is anhydrous ammonia, a key ingredient in manufacturing methamphetamine

Fourth Degree

The total value of the property stolen ranged from $200 to $500.

Disorderly Person Offense

  • The total value of the property was under $200
  • The stolen property was a receiver for an “electronic vehicle identification system”

Level of Criminal Offense

Maximum Incarceration

Maximum Fine

Second Degree

10 years

Up to $150,000

Third Degree

5 years

Up to $15,000

Fourth Degree

18 months

Up to $10,000

Disorderly Person Offense

6 months

Up to $1,000

Other Unique Dispositional Provisions

In (2C:20-2.5) there are additional provisions that relate to certain crimes, such as those of theft committed by a fiduciary. These are penalties that may be imposed in addition to those otherwise levied. An additional $500 penalty would be assessed for third-degree crimes. An additional $2,500 penalty is assessed for second-degree crimes.

Common Theft Defenses

Based on the unique facts and circumstances of an individual case, your attorney may employ a variety of potential defenses. One such defense asserts that the defendant was not aware that the property in question belonged to someone else. Another defense is based on stating that the defendant had a “claim of right” to the property. The defense may contend that they assumed possession of property marked for sale with an intention to pay for it, or that they believed the owner of the property would have given consent to do so.

Do I Need an Attorney Who Specializes in Criminal Defense?

Federal and state agencies are now pursuing white collar criminal activity more than ever. Often, those who investigate and prosecute these offenses act hastily and unfairly make a rush to judgment. In many of these cases, the rights of the accused party are overlooked. It is critical that those facing such allegations promptly retain a lawyer who works in this realm of legal practice on a daily basis.

Attorney Represents Clients Facing Embezzlement Charges

Have you been accused of embezzlement or other similar fraudulent activity? Attorney Joseph D. Lento understands the potentially damaging consequences of being convicted of these types of offenses. He has a proven track record of aggressively defending clients in the New Jersey court system. Make the call to (888) 535-3686 today for a case evaluation.

​​​Contact The Lento Law Firm Today

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When it comes to criminal defense cases, you need the right person in your corner. To learn more about how Mr. Lento can help you, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686. or contact him online.

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