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Embezzlement of Government Property

Embezzlement is defined as an improper fraudulent appropriation of property by a defendant to whom such property was entrusted. In the case of embezzlement of government property, the defendant is entrusted with property if a fiduciary relationship exists between the defendant and the United States or a relationship exists in which the defendant has access to and control over the government’s property.

Embezzlement is different from the offense of theft in that theft involves the improper taking of property that the defendant never had the right to take and the defendant was not entrusted in any way with the property stolen. Moreover, embezzlement also differs from larceny in that with the offense of larceny the defendant intends to permanently deprive the legal owner of the property.

With respect to the federal statute governing the offense of embezzlement, the prosecution is required to prove the following elements:

  • That a fiduciary relationship existed between the United States, as the legal owner of the property, and the defendant
  • The property belonged to the United States
  • The defendant obtained possession of the property by way of his governmental employment
  • The defendant fraudulently converted the governmental property or appropriated it for his own use
  • The defendant acted with the specific intent to deprive the United States of the property

Embezzlement is a specific intent offense. The prosecution need not show that the intent of the defendant was to deprive the United States of its property permanently. It needs only show that the defendant deprived the United States of property that was entrusted to the defendant without the authority to do so.

For example, Susie Que works for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). One day she decides that she needs some extra money to buy some furniture. Susie takes money from the IRS and uses it for a period of six months. Thereafter, Susie returns the money to the IRS. She did not intend to “steal” the money; she only intended to “borrow” the money. Susie may still be charged with embezzlement of governmental property because she did not have the authority to take the property of the United States and use it for herself. Further, she obtained the money by way of her employment and by way of her fiduciary relationship with the government, and specifically intended to take the money. Thus, Susie may be appropriately charged with embezzlement of federal government property.

Copyright 2014 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.


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