Imagine you are a cashier at any given restaurant or store and throughout your shift, you slip a dollar into your pocket here and there. You continue to do this for several weeks and maybe months until you are finally caught.
Now imagine you are the manager of the same restaurant or store and at the end of the day, you fiddle around and make some changes, and then add some money to your own pocket. And you do this for several days, maybe weeks or months, until you are finally caught.
Are these two criminal acts the same thing? Will an Illinois prosecutor charge you for the same crime? And does it even matter?
The answer is tricky. Both crimes are charged under the same theft statute and the penalties are pretty much the same, but the elements defining each scenario are different – and therein lies a problem.
Illinois Theft Laws
A store clerk or cashier has no fiduciary duty to her employer because she is not entrusted with the principal's property. The store clerk, however, must still abide by the law. When she or he takes a few bucks here and there intending never to return it and the amount adds up to maybe $500, then she or he is guilty of petty theft.
A manager of a store has a fiduciary relationship with the company – he or she is trusted with the store's property, including equipment as much as actual money. This fiduciary relationship converts the crime to embezzlement. Even if the value of the property was worth less than $500, the crime is still embezzlement.
But in both cases, the penalties are the same. With no other facts present, these two scenarios could result in a theft charge classified as a Class A misdemeanor. This offense carries a maximum incarceration penalty of up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
In both situations, the classification of the crime increases – as do the penalties – when the stolen property is valued more than $500, is taken from the person's body, or is taken from a specific entity: the government, a religious institution, or a school. Both crimes can be charged as felonies, which carry more time in prison and steeper fines.
So, is there a meaningful difference between theft and embezzlement? Embezzlement is really a "type" of theft. But there is one important distinction: federal law.
Embezzlement as a Federal Crime
When you are charged with embezzlement, it can be charged as either a state crime or a federal crime or both. That matters. Federal charges of embezzlement carry a heavier sentence than a state conviction of embezzlement.
Federal embezzlement charges are governed by Title 18 of the U.S. Criminal Code, Chapter 31. Embezzlement falls under federal jurisdiction when the alleged crime crosses state lines or when the U.S. Postal Service is somehow involved.
The penalties for embezzled property totaling $500 are not significantly different – you still face put to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. The real difference manifests when the property stolen amounts to $1,000 or more. If convicted of a federal embezzlement charge for property valued at $1,000, you face a fine of up to $250,000 and prison time of up to ten years. That difference is significant.
If you have been charged with theft or embezzlement and have real concerns about your future, you need to contact a skilled theft defense attorney today.