18 U.S. Code § 641 - Public Money, Property or Records

Embezzlement under federal law is a white-collar crime involving the theft of money, property, or anything of value. Federal embezzlement differs from traditional theft-related crimes because the owner has given the embezzler permission to possess the property, and it must involve United States government property or similar federal interest.

Embezzlement occurs when someone is legally entrusted with property by the rightful owner but decides to fraudulently take the property with the intent to deprive the rightful owner.

18 U.S.C. § 641 – Embezzlement of Government Property
Embezzlement occurs when someone who is entrusted takes money or property for their use.

The government has many departments, agencies, and employees and owns significant valuable property. When someone embezzles or steals this property, they could be charged with violating Title 18, Section 641 of the United States Code.

18 U.S.C. 641 says, “Whoever embezzles, steals, purloins, or knowingly converts to his use or the use of another, or without authority, sells, conveys or disposes of any record, voucher, money, or thing of value of the United States or of any department or agency thereof, or any property made or being made under contract for the United States or any department or agency thereof; or whoever receives, conceals, or retains the same with intent to convert it to his use or gain, knowing it to have been embezzled, stolen, purloined or converted, shall be….”

In other words, this statute makes it a federal crime to steal, embezzle, or knowingly convert with intent for your gain to the property. This law also covers concealing or keeping anything of value if you know it was stolen or embezzled. Many face multiple counts of embezzlement in a single case.

What Must a Prosecutor Prove for a Conviction?

As noted, embezzlement is the fraudulent appropriation of property by someone entrusted to the property. Those with the most access to government property are often federal employees with permission to possess it.

As noted, 18 U.S. Code Section 641 establishes the crime of embezzlement of government property. To convict, a federal prosecutor will have to prove all the elements of the crime, beyond a reasonable doubt, including the following:

  • There is a trust relationship between the owner and perpetrator;
  • The United States government owns the property or has an interest;
  • The perpetrator took the property in the course of their employment;
  • The perpetrator fraudulently converted the property for their use; and
  • The perpetrator intended to deprive the rightful owner of use of it.

Notably, embezzlement is a specific intent crime, meaning the perpetrator must intend to deprive the rightful owner of use. However, unlike traditional theft crimes, embezzlement does not require the perpetrator to intend to deprive the rightful owner permanently. This means it doesn't matter if the perpetrator later returns the property or intends to pay back the government.

The offense is complete as soon as government property is misappropriated, even if the government ultimately suffers no financial harm. A larceny also qualifies for prosecution under 18 U.S.C. 641.

This statute is written broadly to encompass almost all wrongful acts which deprive the government of some or all of the value of its property.  Also, “knowing conversion” of property can give rise to a prosecution, which covers most intentional wrongful uses of government property.

What are the Common Mistakes? 

Those charged with federal embezzlement usually face many years in federal prison, served at 85%.  Avoiding any mistakes in these types of cases is crucial.

I think the first mistake that people make is not realizing the importance of attempting to pay back whatever money was taken.  Sometimes, that payment can be made in the form of cash. Other times, assets are in the back, yet other things like property can be used to pay back these embezzled funds.

The government will see the value of the embezzled funds, and then they will look to see where that money went.  They will trace it.  For example, if you used some of the money to pay the mortgage on your property or buy a property, they will attempt to take the property as part of the restitution for the embezzled funds.  

Of course, there are all kinds of examples of how they can trace stolen money and then attempt to recover that money by way of the available vehicles. The more money that can be paid back, the better position you will be in when the federal sentencing comes down and the judge is looking at the difference between what the government captured for the victim or victims and what was lost by the victims. The more that was lost, the more likely you are to get a lengthy prison sentence.  

Another common mistake people make about these embezzlement cases is not hiring an experienced lawyer immediately.  You want to ensure you get somebody with experience dealing with federal embezzlement cases and can start making moves on your behalf to put you in the best position.  

The last mistake you want to avoid is not figuring out an angle immediately – a roadmap if you will – on how to successfully defend your case.  Because if you don't have a roadmap, you don't know where you're going, and you don't know what you're going to do related to your matter, then you're usually not going to end up at the place that you want at the end.  

What Are the Related Federal Laws?

18 U.S. Code Chapter 31 Embezzlement and Theft has numerous federal statutes that are related to 18 U.S.C. 641 public money, property, or records, including the following:

  • 18 U.S.C. 642 – Tools and materials for counterfeiting purposes;
  • 18 U.S.C. 643 – Accounting generally for public money;
  • 18 U.S.C. 644 – Banker receiving unauthorized deposit of public money;
  • 18 U.S.C. 645 – Court officers generally;
  • 18 U.S.C. 646 – Court officers depositing registry moneys;
  • 18 U.S.C. 647 – Receiving a loan from a court officer;
  • 18 U.S.C. 648 – Custodians generally misuse public funds;
  • 18 U.S.C. 649 – Custodians failing to deposit moneys; persons affected;
  • 18 U.S.C. 650 – Depositaries failing to safeguard deposits;
  • 18 U.S.C. 651 – Disbursing officer falsely certifying full payment;
  • 18 U.S.C. 652 – Disbursing officer paying lesser instead of lawful amount;
  • 18 U.S.C. 653 – Disbursing officer misusing public funds;
  • 18 U.S.C. 654 – Employee of the United States converting property;
  • 18 U.S.C. 655 – Theft by bank examiner;
  • 18 U.S.C. 656 – Theft, embezzlement, or misapplication by bank officer;
  • 18 U.S.C. 657 – Lending, credit and insurance institutions;
  • 18 U.S.C. 658 – Property mortgaged or pledged to farm credit agencies;
  • 18 U.S.C. 659 – Interstate or foreign shipments by carrier;
  • 18 U.S.C. 660 – Carrier's funds derived from commerce;
  • 18 U.S.C. 661 – Within special maritime and territorial jurisdiction;
  • 18 U.S.C. 662 – Receiving stolen property within territorial jurisdiction;
  • 18 U.S.C. 663 – Solicitation or use of gifts;
  • 18 U.S.C. 664 – Theft or embezzlement from employee benefit plan;
  • 18 U.S.C. 665 – Theft from employment and training funds;
  • 18 U.S.C. 666 – Theft concerning programs receiving federal funds;
  • 18 U.S.C. 667 – Theft of livestock;
  • 18 U.S.C. 668 – Theft of major artwork;
  • 18 U.S.C. 669 – Theft or embezzlement in connection with health care;
  • 18 U.S.C. 670 – Theft of medical products,

What Are the Penalties for 18 U.S.C. 641?

Suppose you are convicted of violating federal embezzlement laws. In that case, you are facing the following penalties:

  • A maximum of 10 years in federal prison and a fine;
  • If the embezzlement of property is valued at less than $1,000, the maximum prison term decreases to one year plus a fine.

Notably, however, sentencing for violating 18 U.S.C. 641 is subject to the application of the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines and the equitable factors defined under 18 U.S.C. 3553(a). 

The goals of a federal district court judge in sentencing defendants include punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation, and respect for the law.

What Are the Defenses for 18 U.S.C. 641?

Anyone under investigation or facing a federal grand jury indictment for 18 U.S.C. 641 government property embezzlement must consult a lawyer.

Suppose you are accused of violating federal embezzlement laws.  In that case, a federal criminal defense lawyer can use different strategies based on the case details.

Defenses for Federal Embezzlement
Contact our federal defense lawyers for guidance.

Perhaps we can argue that you were acting within the official authority of your employment and were not taking government property. We can argue that you intended to return the government property if accused of a larceny-related offense. 

Perhaps we can argue that there is a lack of evidence to prove intent, which is required to obtain a conviction. In other words, federal prosecutors must show evidence of your “specific intent” to commit the crime.

Simply put, if there is insufficient evidence of intent, or the evidence shows your conduct might have been in reasonably “good faith,” prosecution under this statute is inappropriate.

Perhaps we can argue that there is a lack of necessary evidence for a conviction. Maybe we can cast reasonable doubt on one or more crucial factors for a guilty verdict.

Perhaps we can argue that there were constitutional violations, such as unlawful searches and seizures, in violation of your Fourth Amendment Rights. Maybe we can negotiate a favorable plea bargain with the federal prosecutor when guilt is not in doubt.

We serve clients in the Central District of California and throughout the United States. We offer a free case evaluation. The Hedding Law Firm has offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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