What is the difference between embezzlement and larceny?

A woman left her job as superintendent of a school system in order to take a similar position with a new system. According to The Courant, her former employer conducted an investigation and found she misspent nearly $9,000, using district funds in the form of a board of education credit card to purchase items to send to her children living in Minnesota and Maryland. State police charged her with first-degree larceny due to the misappropriation of money, and she has resigned from her new position and awaits trial.

In many situations in which people are accused of stealing from their employer, they are charged with embezzlement, not larceny. However, there is a small distinction between the two criminal charges that signify exactly how the crime occurred.

Defining the terms

Larceny typically refers to a theft of property in which the person who steals it never had any possession of the item in the first place. With embezzlement, the person who has stolen money or property had at one point legal possession of it and deceived the people or, in most cases, the company ownership or shareholders, in order to steal it.

As an example, if people who work for a painting company uses a brush every day and then takes it home for their own use, it would be considered embezzlement because at one point they had ownership of the brush. However, if someone unaffiliated with the company walks up and takes the brush, it would be viewed as larceny. Because the superintendent in the case was never in charge of the funds on the credit card, she was charged with larceny.

Consequences of theft

According to the Minnesota statute on theft, someone who has been convicted of larceny or embezzlement will face sentencing guidelines such as the following:

  • Up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000 for money or property worth less than $500
  • Up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $3,000 for items valued at between $500 and $1,000
  • Up to five years in jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000 for items valued between $1,000 or $35,000
  • Up to 10 years in jail and/or a fine of up to $20,000 for items valued between $5,000 and $35,000
  • Up to 20 years in jail and/or a fine of up to $100,000 for items valued at more than $35,000.

It is important to note that embezzling or otherwise stealing controlled substances, trade secrets, explosive devices and firearms have harsh automatic sentencing guidelines that do not factor in the value of the item. Anyone with questions regarding theft in Minnesota should contact a defense attorney.

He has won jury trial cases in misdemeanor and felony cases and in DWI’s and non-DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. He is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

What to Do If You Have Been Charged with a Criminal Offense

Involve a criminal appeal attorney soon after you learn the prosecution is appealing your sentence. Your attorney will walk you through the involving and confusing sentencing guidelines. An attorney's involvement will also help you develop a defense strategy for the appeal.