Woman accused of embezzling substantial sum over 5-year period

The Hennepin County Attorney's office has filed charges against a former bookkeeper for misappropriating more than $675,000 from her employer over the past five years. Because the amount in question exceeds $35,000, a conviction could mean a prison sentence of 20 years at most or a fine not to exceed $100,000. The prosecutor will seek restitution as well.

Minnesota does not use the term "embezzlement" for cases like this. Rather, the crime is "theft by swindle," where the swindle involves the suspect's intentional deception or betrayal of confidence. As with any crime, a suspect's intent is key: There must be a deliberate act or ongoing scheme. Dishonesty -- say, picking up money that has dropped on the floor -- is not enough.

As the bookkeeper, the woman had access to the company's checkbook and credit card. According to the county attorney's statement, she used the card to pay for vacations, clothing and other personal items. She also wrote herself checks for thousands of dollars, the statement continued, apparently using the money to purchase silver bullion bars that investigators have already removed from her home. Investigators allegedly discovered wire transfers from the company's accounts to other accounts that she controlled or had an interest in.

Finally, again according to the statement, she transferred money to herself through the payroll system. This is where investigators discovered she had attempted to pay the money back: She paid herself no salary for a period of time. She did not reimburse the full amount she owed, but this may help with her defense.

In situations like this, someone who has been charged with theft by swindle may be able to avoid jail time and heavy fines with the help of an experienced defense attorney. An attorney can help, too, if someone believes he or she is about to be charged or has misgivings about past conduct.

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