Embezzlement of Public Funds

Cases involving the embezzlement of public funds are extremely serious and frequently cited by federal judges as being worse and more damaging to society than even far-reaching narcotics conspiracies which carry potentially much higher prison sentences. Worse, questioning of targets by federal agents in advance of a prosecutor filing charges is routine in these cases, and when targets are uncounseled, frequently result in additional allegations involving the making of false statements to federal officers or obstruction of justice, either of which may add several years of imprisonment to any sentence. For these reasons - and the potential minefield of collateral consequences that accompany these charges, e.g., loss of employment, elected position, or a professional license - it is imperative that one retains an attorney as soon as he is made aware that he has become the target of an investigation into the embezzlement of public monies.

As the Supreme Court recognized in 1895, embezzlement is the "appropriation of property by a person to whom such property has been entrusted, or into whose hands it has lawfully come." Moore v. United States 160 U.S. 269, 269 (1895). "It differs from larceny in the fact that the original taking was lawful, or with the consent of the owner, while in larceny the felonious intent must have existed at the time of the taking." Id. While numerous statutes punish the embezzlement of public funds, the broadest and most frequently utilized by federal prosecutors is 18 U.S.C. § 641, which provides that: 1) whoever steals or embezzles without authority - either for his own use or that of another - any record, money, or thing of value of the United States or of any agency thereof, or any property made or being made under contract for the United States; or 2) receives, conceals, or retains the same with intent to convert it to his use or gain, knowing it to have been embezzled, stolen, purloined or converted - shall be imprisoned for a maximum of ten years imprisonment, unless the aggregate value of the property or currency at issue is less than $1,000, lowering the maximum sentence to one year imprisonment.

In addition to 18 U.S.C. § 641, a number of statutes prohibit specific acts involving stolen or embezzled government property or funds. For instance, 18 U.S.C. § 643 provides that any officer, employee or agent of the United States who receives money which he is not authorized to retain as salary and fails to account for it as provided by law is guilty of embezzlement; 18 U.S.C. § 644 prohibits persons who are not authorized depositories of public money from knowingly receiving any such money or using, transferring, converting, appropriating or applying such money for any purpose not prescribed by law; 18 U.S.C. § 648 forbids custodians of public funds from loaning, using, or converting those funds, or depositing or exchanging them, except as authorized by law; and 18 U.S.C. § 649 provides that any person who possesses or controls money belonging to the United States and fails to deposit it when required to do so is guilty of embezzlement. These crimes are also punishable by a fine and a maximum 10 year sentence of imprisonment, unless the aggregate value of the property or currency at issue amounts to less than $1,000, lowering the maximum sentence to one year imprisonment.

Hiring a top New York criminal defense attorney to defend you in a federal prosecution for embezzlement is crucial and will ensure that every viable defense is explored and utilized on your behalf. Lawyers at the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman have successfully handled several of these cases, exploiting holes in the prosecution's evidence to achieve the best possible result for our clients. Contact us today at (212) 518-1001 for a free consultation.