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What is embezzlement under Connecticut law?

Under Connecticut law, embezzlement occurs when people keep property that was entrusted to their care and for which they had an obligation to perform specific duties. These duties constitute a fiduciary relationship between the victim and defendant. That relationship is what differentiates embezzlement from theft or larceny. Someone who betrays his or her fiduciary duties is considered to have embezzled.

For example, if the customer of a brokerage firm entrusts his funds to a brokerage and the broker uses the funds to buy a boat or a new sports car, that's considered embezzlement. Corporate or public officers, agents and trustees are among those who have fiduciary duties.

The classification of an embezzlement crime, and consequently the amount of potential fines and/or jail time, depend on the value and type of property as well as characteristics of the alleged victim. Anything under $2,000 is considered a misdemeanor unless it's one of the following:

-- A culture, microorganism, biological sample

-- The record of an invention, technical process or scientific secret

-- A public record

-- A vehicle

The felony classification increases if the alleged victim is:

-- A telecommunications service whose emergency services were interrupted

-- Someone who is physically disabled or blind

The embezzlement of public property also warrants a higher felony classification and punishment.

There are various defenses that a person can provide to refute embezzlement charges. For example, if the person in the fiduciary relationship with the defendant doesn't demand the property back, the defendant may argue that his or her actions constituted negligence, with no criminal intent.

Defendants may be able to argue that they took the property during the course of performing their duties. This is considered a claim of authority.

Defendants may argue that they took the property because they believed it to be theirs and did so openly. This is a claim of good faith. However, this defense probably couldn't be used if someone took property because the other person owed them money or something else.

An embezzlement conviction can ruin a person's career, not to mention cost him or her a significant amount of money and time behind bars. That's why it's essential to seek legal guidance from an attorney experienced in handling these cases who can explain what may be complicated circumstances to a judge and/or jury.

Source: FindLaw, "Connecticut Embezzlement Laws," accessed March 03, 2016

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