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Embezzlement: What it is and why it often goes to civil court

Embezzlement is a type of monetary fraud and theft that's often hard to detect -- mostly because the people who do it are legally entitled to somehow access or control the funds in the first place.

For example, you often hear about famous celebrities, like Sting, Elton John and Uma Thurman, who wind up suing their financial managers for fraud and embezzlement. What frequently happens is that those celebrities, perhaps because of their positions and wealth, trust their money to someone else to manage it for them. They literally sign where they're told to sign in order to transfer money around. Sometimes they even surrender that power directly to their financial manager. So if a financial manager decides to embezzle money, that's the equivalent of handing the keys to the hen house directly to the fox.

Embezzlement is usually a long-term crime, not a one-shot deal. Often the embezzler starts small and gradually builds up his or her "take" over time. There are several reasons for this:

  • The embezzler doesn't want to raise suspicions from anyone else that might warn the victim.
  • He or she needs time to refine tactics in order to hide the tracks.
  • The embezzler must keep the victim in the dark about what is happening so the cash flow doesn't stop.
  • Embezzlers don't want to get caught and lose their jobs (or potentially end up in jail).

The reality is that many embezzlement schemes are so craftily done that it's hard for the police to build a criminal case against the embezzler. A criminal case threatens someone's liberty, so the standard of evidence used must be significantly higher than it is in civil court to require convictions. That's why you hear about those celebrities taking their cases to civil court instead of simply pressing charges.

Taking an embezzler to civil court also has another advantage — unless the money is already spent (for example, because the embezzler was feeding a gambling addiction), the victim can attempt to get some of it back.

If you're the victim of an embezzlement scheme and you need help getting back what still remains of your funds, talk to an attorney today about all of your options.

Source: FindLaw, "Embezzlement," accessed Oct. 13, 2017

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