Embezzlement in Massachusetts is defined as a type of larceny involving taking property of another person or entity by a person who was entrusted to care for said property. Embezzlement may occur in many circumstances, but is most often committed by government officials or financial advisors that are in charge of company or government funds.
Generally, embezzlement crimes are on the rise in the US; they increased by more than 11% from 2011 to 2012. The average loss in embezzlement cases nationally was $1.4 million.
Embezzlement Conviction in Massachusetts
For embezzlement to be proven in Massachusetts, three elements must exist:
- There must be a financial relationship between the accused and the victim; this is called a fiduciary relationship. This means the victim must have been relying on the other party to handle money, property or anything of financial value. Some of the common fiduciary relationships that involve embezzlement are between bankers and clients; stock brokers and clients; and accountants and companies.
- The accused must have acquired the money or property of the other party or entity, and then transferred possession to him or herself, or an unauthorized third party. It is not embezzlement if the accused merely has access to the money or property. Rather, the accused must have used their access to convert the money or property for his or her own benefit or benefit of a third party. A simple example is where a stockbroker transfers the stock funds of a client to his own personal account.
- The accused’s actions must have been on purpose. There must have been fraudulent intent. Therefore, if the financial advisor makes a mistake and transfers property of the client to himself, this is not usually embezzlement. There must have been a conscious decision to move the assets into the control of the other person.
Massachusetts Embezzlement Laws and Penalties
In Massachusetts, crimes that break state laws are filed at the state level. In this state, sentences for embezzlement are the same for a conviction for larceny, as defined in Section 30: Larceny; general provisions and penalties.
If the item that was embezzled was worth under $250, and did not involve a gun, it is is a felony offense, but if the value was above $250 or did involve a gun, this felony offense will have a stiffer punishment.
A conviction for embezzlement in Massachusetts can get you up to five years in Massachusetts state prison, up to two years in jail, and a fine up to $25,000 if the crime involved trade secrets.
These penalties also apply for larceny and embezzlement in Massachusetts:
- If committed by a fiduciary, up to 10 years in prison and up to $2000 fine.
- If committed by a municipal officer, up to 10 years in prison and up to $2000 fine.
- If committed by a broker, up to five years in prison and a $500 fine.
- If committed by a bank representative, up to 15 years in prison and a $2000 fine.
- If committed by an association officer, this is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail or a $300 fine.
Also, an embezzlement case may be tried as a tort case in Massachusetts; this is technically called ‘conversion’ and not embezzlement. Conversion victims may sue in civil court; this is covered under Mass. Gen. Laws chapter 260, section 2A.
At the federal level, embezzlement charges will follow the US Sentencing Commission Guidelines. This system uses points to determine a potential sentence for a federal crime. Many variables are at play in a federal sentence, but suffice it to say that the penalty for a federal embezzlement conviction will be higher than a state conviction.
Embezzlement Enhancement Penalties
States generally recognize that trust is a vital part of the fiduciary relationship. Therefore many states have determined that some aggravating factors could be present with some embezzlement charges when the accused holds a position of public trust, such as a government worker or an employee at a bank, or if the accused targets vulnerable people such as the elderly.
Defendants on embezzlement charges will usually face stiff jail sentences and are usually required to pay back the victim; this is known as restitution.
Legal Defenses to Embezzlement Charges in Massachusetts
Being charged with embezzlement can be frightening, but there are some common defenses that can be effective.
- You did not take the money or property. Your attorney will work with you to provide evidence that you did not take the money or property that you allegedly took.
- Show that you took the property for legitimate reasons. A common reason to be falsely accused of this serious crime is that you did take the funds, but you did it for a legitimate reason and an authorized business purpose. You must show in court that you had legitimate business reasons to take the money, and that you did not take it to gain personally.
- Lack of evidence. If you can show that an underlying assumption that is vital to the premise that you committed embezzlement, or you can show there is any reasonable doubt about some of the charges, you could be acquitted.
- No intent. It is impossible to commit embezzlement by accident. You may have thought the property that you took was yours. It must be shown that the property you took was not your for it to be embezzlement.
- If you thought you or a loved one would be harmed if you did not take the funds or property, you could prove that you were acting under duress. This could result in being acquitted of the charges. But there is a fine line in this scenario. It would not be duress if you were simply taking the money to pay your mortgage. There must be proof that harm would come to you or your family if you did not commit the crime. It is possible to argue duress if your supervisor threatened to fire you if you did not steal the money.
Statute of Limitations for Embezzlement in Massachusetts
The statute of limitations for embezzlement in this state is six years from the date of the alleged crime. This is detailed in Mass. Gen. Laws c. 277, section 63. It is vital to know that the statute of limitations can be stopped or tolled if you are out of state at any time during that six years.
The statute of limitations for a conversion offense, where you are sued in civil court and not charged in criminal court, is three years from the date of the alleged action.
Embezzlement Cases in Massachusetts
- Athol MA Bank Teller Charged With Embezzlement -- A bank employee in Athol has been charged with embezzling up to $100,000 in customer accounts. Jessica Vargas, 34, was arrested and charged in US District Court in Worcester on one count of bank embezzlement.
- No Jail Time for Blandford MA Tax Collector -- A former tax collector in Massachusetts will not serve jail time but must pay restitution after she admitted she embezzled town funds. LeeAnn Thompson must pay a total of $13,000 in restitution as one condition of getting probation.
- Former Bookkeeper Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement -- A former school bookkeeper in New Mexico pleaded guilty this month to embezzling up to $95,000. Antoinette Garcia admitted that she stole funds from Bernalillo Public Schools where she was an employee in 2014 and 2015. This was her second time being charged with embezzlement. She is facing 10 years in state prison.
- Township Employee Charged with $250,000 Embezzlement - A township employee has been charged with embezzling more than $250,000 to pay for medical bills and various online purchases, shoes and jewelry as part of a shopping addiction. Donna Groff reportedly spent most of the funds on purchases she bought on the Internet. She has been charged with felony theft, and allegedly stole cash payments made for sewer, water and trash bills.
- Suspended Attorney Sentenced to 9 Months in Prison for Embezzling $600,000 -- Suspended attorney Matthew MacLean was sentenced this month to nine months in prison for embezzling $600,000 from a former employer. He was charged with stealing the money from Red Granite Advisors LLC, which was an investment firm he created and worked as general counsel.
Get Massachusetts Embezzlement Help Now
Take fast action, preferably before any charges are filed. Get the best defense possible in Boston Massachusetts and throughout the Northeast region. Contact the law office of Attorney Geoffrey G. Nathan, in Boston, MA. Contact him now for your free consultation. Text (617) 905-1433.
- Massachusetts State Ordinances. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartIV/TitleI/Chapter266/Section30