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Embezzlement: peculiar crime, common patterns

Embezzlement is in many ways a peculiar type of crime. It is peculiar because embezzlement is typically done by a treasurer, accountant or other financial officer who originally had a legitimate right to handle an employer's money.

In New Jersey and across the country, this makes embezzlement unlike most other property crimes. There is a big difference, after all, between theft involving burglary or robbery and theft involving taking money from financial accounts under someone's control.

One reason this is such a big difference is that the crime of theft normally requires an intention to permanently deprive the owner of the property in question. With embezzlement, that intention can be difficult to detect because people who take money from an employer often intend to pay it back.

For example, a common scenario involves a treasurer with financial problems who takes money from an employer's account temporarily, hoping to pay it back. But a drug or gambling addiction or other issues may prevent that from happening. 

Of course, there are all sort of possible variations on this theme. In one recent New Jersey case, an official with a nonprofit agency in Central Jersey has been charged with embezzlement in connection with an alleged scheme to generate false paychecks for nonexistent employees. The formal charge is theft by deception.

The official was the human resources and training director for a nonprofit organization that served developmentally disabled people. Prosecutors say the official diverted the checks for the bogus employees to his account. All told, the official allegedly took more than $100,000 in this way.

Source: NorthJersey.com, "NJ nonprofit group official accused of embezzlement," Associated Press, May 11, 2013

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