Question: What is embezzlement?

Answer: Embezzlement is the general word for the misappropriation of money or property by someone who that money or property has been entrusted to. So that could be an employee, a public official, a trustee, someone like that. In Wisconsin there’s not a crime called “embezzlement;” what we call it in Wisconsin is theft by bailee, which is a funny word.

But theft by bailee is different from a regular theft, because with theft you take something without permission; in this type of case, it’s somebody that has permission to use the money for some reason or some purposeā€”so maybe you have a company credit card for company expenses, or maybe you’re the manager of a bank account or an investment account. So the money is given to you with permission, but then you take the money and use it for yourself or use it for a way that you don’t have permission. The penalties involved for embezzlement or what we call theft by bailee are based on the amount of money that’s involved.

So a small theft under $2,500 could be treated as a misdemeanor carrying nine months in jail as a maximum. But larger thefts carry larger penalties, all the way up to 10 years in prison for a theft of $10,000 or more. I should also mention that separate thefts can be charged as separate crimes, which comes up frequently in these cases where people are every week or every month taking a little bit more money out. So each of those can be charged separately. If somebody embezzles $10,000 from 10 separate accounts or embezzles $10,000 every month for 10 months in a row, they can be facing 10 felony charges.

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