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Embezzlement: when authority to handle money is misused

Embezzlement is not an uncommon criminal charge. But in many ways it is an unusual one. It is unusual because, unlike other property offenses, the person charged is often someone who originally had rightful authority to handle money that was taken.

A good example of this is someone who works as a treasurer for an organization. In a recent St. Louis-area case, a former church treasurer was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to a year in prison.

The former treasurer was a 53-year-old woman. She had worked as a treasurer of a charity at the church in Cottleville, Missouri, since 2005. The charity, part of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, was involved in service to the poor.

According to federal prosecutors, however, the woman began forging checks. The signature was that of the president of the charity - who happened to be the woman's husband.

The woman then allegedly set up a sham account for the charity at a credit union. It was an account that did not require a second person's signature. Authorities say that she took cash and checks intended to help the poor, converted them to her own use, and provided false reports to the charity.

This went on for seven years, prosecutors said. At trial in St. Louis, there was a dispute about the amount of money the former treasurer had taken. Eventually, the judge determined the amount to be $209,260. The woman has already repaid $192,000. The judge has ordered her to also repay the rest.

The actual charge to which the woman pleaded guilty was mail fraud. Under federal sentencing guidelines, the judge sentenced her to 366 days in prison - a year and a day.

Source: "Former treasurer of Cottleville church gets one year for embezzlement," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Robert Patrick, 1-24-13

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