In the past years, two embezzlement cases have hit local headlines. On September 11, 2013, a former bookkeeper with Allstate Electrical Contractors, Inc., in Oklahoma City, pleaded guilty in federal court to making a forged security and filing a false tax return. Renea I. Windham admitted to embezzling more than $143,000, forging a check in the amount of $4,380.08, and failing to claim more than $60,000 in income on her 2012 federal tax return. When she is sentenced in December, she faces a combined maximum of 13 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each charge. She must also pay restitution to her former employer in the amount of $143,057.10.
On September 12, a former realty executive was charged with embezzling $147,000. Shirley Jean Holland, a former board member with the Norman Board of Realtors and the local Association of Multi-List Services, is accused of using the organizations’ credit cards to make unauthorized personal purchases and of reimbursing herself for travel expenses which were paid with the credit cards.
Embezzlement, at its simplest definition, is taking money or property that was entrusted to you for one purpose, and using it for your personal purposes. Oklahoma law, in Title 21 Section 1451, provides a much more thorough definition:
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, under any of the following circumstances:
- Where the property was obtained by being entrusted to that person for a specific purpose, use, or disposition and shall include, but not be limited to, any funds “held in trust” for any purpose;
- Where the property was obtained by virtue of a power of attorney being granted for the sale or transfer of the property;
- Where the property is possessed or controlled for the use of another person;
- Where the property is to be used for a public or benevolent purpose;
- Where any person diverts any money appropriated by law from the purpose and object of the appropriation;
- Where any person fails or refuses to pay over to the state, or appropriate authority, any tax or other monies collected in accordance with state law, and who appropriates the tax or monies to the use of that person, or to the use of any other person not entitled to the tax or monies;
- Where the property is possessed for the purpose of transportation, without regard to whether packages containing the property have been broken;
- Where any person removes crops from any leased or rented premises with the intent to deprive the owner or landlord interested in the land of any of the rent due from that land, or who fraudulently appropriates the rent to that person or any other person; or
- Where the property is possessed or controlled by virtue of a lease or rental agreement, and the property is willfully or intentionally not returned within ten (10) days after the expiration of the agreement.
It does not matter if the misappropriated property was credit, cash, or physical item such as a car or laptop computer. It does not matter if the person who took the funds or property intended to repay it or return it. In order to obtain a conviction, prosecutors must only prove that the defendant took or hid (“fraudulent appropriation” or “secretion”) property with the intent to use it in an unauthorized manner according to any of the nine specified circumstances.
Embezzlement is an offense that is punished based on the value of the misappropriated or converted property:
- Less than $500 – misdemeanor, maximum term of one year in county jail, fine of up to $1,000
- More than $500 but less than $1,000 – felony, maximum term of one year in county jail, fine of up to $5,000, and restitution to the victim
- $1000 to less than $25,000 – felony, maximum term of five years in prison, fine of up to $5,000, and restitution to the victim
- $25,000 or more – felony, maximum term of ten years in prison, fine of up to $10,000, and restitution to the victim
Typically, embezzlement is prosecuted at the state level, but it can be charged as a federal offense, particularly when the embezzlement involves federal funds. Whether the offense is charged in state court or federal court, it is imperative that the defendant is represented by an experienced and skillful defense lawyer.