Is Embezzlement a Felony in Pennsylvania?

by | Jan 10, 2022

Pennsylvania’s criminal code classifies embezzlements as either felonies or misdemeanors. The classification depends upon the value of the property converted for personal use. However, for PA to consider the embezzlement a felony, the individual would have to be convicted for taking $2,000 or more.

In This Article

In this article, a Philadelphia white-collar crimes defense lawyer answers questions that many clients and their families have during an investigation or after an arrest:

Let’s start by examining how Pennsylvania laws define embezzlement and who typically faces them.

How Does Pennsylvania Define Embezzlement?

Pennsylvania state laws classify various criminal offenses like embezzlement as “Thefts By Failure to Make Required Disposition of Funds” per 18 Pa.C.S. § 3927. In general, individuals commit this type of theft when they take or retain someone else’s property without the owner’s consent. Embezzlement is one of the theft-related offenses that the state may prosecute and typically committed by someone with a fiduciary responsibility.

People with a fiduciary duty usually hold the following roles:

  • Accountants
  • Bank tellers
  • Board members
  • Bookkeepers
  • Business partners
  • Corporate executives
  • Founders
  • Front desk clerks
  • Investment managers
  • Lawyers
  • Managers
  • Paralegals
  • Trustees

State and federal courts often charge executive-level employees. The reality is that anyone in any position can face these types of charges.

Read the exact legal text of Thefts By Failure to Make Required Disposition of Funds via the Pennsylvania General Assembly website here.

What Do Prosecutors Need to Convict Me of Embezzlement?

Generally, prosecutors must establish that the defendant intended to deprive the property owner of their property. Deprivation refers to any activity that withholds property of another permanently, significantly reduces the property’s value by holding it for an extended period, or reduces the ability of the owner to recover it.

Prosecutors must prove that you committed the following to get a conviction:

  • Element 1. Obtained property for payment or disposition
  • Element 2. Knew that someone else owned the property
  • Element 3. Converted the property to personal use
  • Element 4. Failed to make required payments or dispositions

Embezzlement usually occurs within a business or office setting. However, cases do not always involve money. For example, someone can convert electronics and company vehicles from company to personal use.

What Is the Punishment for Embezzlement in PA?

Penalties for embezzlement convictions are severe, ranging from hefty fines to significant prison time. They will vary according to the property’s value but often result in fines, restitution, and jail time. You can mitigate the impact of these charges on your life by speaking with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney for more detailed guidance on your legal options.

The potential penalties for embezzlement in PA include:

  • Under $50 (3rd-degree misdemeanor): Up to a $2,500 fine and up to one (1) year in jail
  • $50 to $199 (2nd-degree misdemeanor): Up to $5,000 in fines and up to two (2) years in prison
  • $200 to $1,999 (1st-degree misdemeanor): Up to $10,000 in fines and up to five (5) years in prison
  • $2,000 to $99,999 (3rd-degree felony): A fine of up to $15,000 and up to seven (7) years in prison
  • $100,000 to $499,000 (2nd-degree felony): Up to $25,000 in fines and up to ten (10) years in prison
  • $500,000 or more (1st-degree felony): Up to $25,000 in fines and up to twenty (20) years in prison

If convicted of embezzling property or money worth more than $2,000, you face felony charges.

Theft convictions on your record can have a lasting impact on your life, even after serving your sentence. However, it is critical to understand that being charged with a crime does not guarantee a conviction for prosecutors. Working with a defense lawyer can help you present your defense in the best possible light.

Related Article: Why Hire a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer?

What Other Charges Can I Face for Embezzlement?

Since there is technically no specific “embezzlement” statute in Pennsylvania, prosecutors may file additional charges against you or your loved one. For example, if they allege that you committed fraud to obtain property, you may be charged with fraud or theft by deception on top of other theft charges.

Fraud encompasses many types of crime but generally involves a deliberately deceptive act. For instance, you could be charged with fraud if prosecutors believe you forged documents or committed identity theft to embezzle funds or property.

Federal Embezzlement Charges

Embezzlement is one of the offenses listed in the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO, Act, under federal law. Federal convictions carry significantly harsher penalties than state convictions. The federal sentencing guidelines, like state guidelines, are driven by the criminal charge and the loss amounts to calculate a sentencing range.

The U.S. Department of Justice website summarizes RICO Act provisions here.

How Can I Prove My Innocence of Embezzlement?

Regardless of how Pennsylvania recognizes embezzlement, it is a serious offense because it involves a breach of trust. Even if they only convict you of a misdemeanor amount, you could face thousands in fines, restitution, and jail. Your livelihood and reputation are also at stake.

Preparing a defensive strategy is an integral part of the legal process. Depending upon the facts of your case and available evidence, someone could use the following defenses to clear their name:

Defense 1. Inadequate Evidence

Many state theft and federal embezzlement charges receive a dismissal for lack of evidence. This strategy is effective if a jury finds you innocent beyond a reasonable doubt and if investigators cannot build a compelling case.

Defense 2. Duress

Duress is when you commit an action due to someone else threatening you to do it. This defense might work if, for example, you faced the prospect of losing your job if you chose not to embezzle the funds.

Defense 3. Entrapment

Entrapment occurs when the government coerces an innocent individual into embezzling funds they would not have taken on their own volition. Prosecutors often challenge entrapment defenses since they believe that an individual would have committed the crime regardless of the pressure faced.

Defense 4. Lack of Intent

Prosecutors must prove that you intended never to make the required payments or dispositions if they want to get a conviction. You could use a lack of intent defense in some situations, especially if you can prove that you believe you owned the property.

Defense 5. Incapacitation

Incapacitation is when you could not have known that you were embezzling due to physical conditions or mental limitations. For instance, if you were not in the right state of mind while making transactions.

Defense 6. Alibi Defenses

An alibi defense is when you could not have committed the embezzlement since you were in another location when the alleged incident happened. You must notify prosecutors of an alibi defense before using it and present verifiable evidence of your whereabouts.

Related Article: How Strong Is An Alibi Defense?

What Should I Do After an Embezzlement Arrest?

You should not face your criminal charges alone. Embezzlement charges are serious, and experienced legal representation can walk you through the process while advising you on possible legal strategies for your particular circumstances. Effective legal representation will also fight for you against the massive resources of the government. While these benefits do not provide a crystal ball into the future, they give you a level of control and insight.

Issue No Statements to Anyone

Do not speak with investigators, prosecutors, or victims without the presence of your criminal defense attorney. Detectives receive extensive investigatory training in questioning suspects that can impair your ability to defend yourself adequately. You may respond falsely or suspiciously to one of their questions, putting you at risk of felony charges. This can happen even if you are innocent.

Hire a White-Collar Crimes Attorney

The risk of speaking to officials is by and large usually never worth the outcome. Contact an attorney with experience in white-collar crimes as soon as possible to assist you in fighting your charges and defending your rights.

Are you or a family member facing embezzlement or theft charges in Pennsylvania?

Shuttleworth Law believes that everyone deserves an aggressive legal defense. A Philadelphia white-collar crimes lawyer on our legal team will help if you face charges. Schedule your Free Case Evaluation with Brad V. Shuttleworth, Esq. now by calling (215) 774-1371 or message him confidentially here.

If you cannot meet at our office, we can travel to you, visit by phone, or talk via video chat.

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