Wisconsin prosecutors charge suspects with embezzlement more often than many people might guess. This year alone, charges have been filed against the founder of a nonprofit, partners of a casino business, the bookkeeper of a fire department, the house manager of a sorority and many others.

CFO Magazine once declared chief financial officer the “most dangerous job in corporate America,” arguing it is too hard to handle a business’ finances without being caught up in someone else’s crimes. So, what is embezzlement and does is everyone charged with it found guilty?

Betraying trust to take ownership

Embezzlement is basically theft, but with a difference.

Someone (a business, for example) entrusts a person with property (often money), expecting them to handle it as if still controlled by its rightful owner. Instead, an embezzler uses the property as if were their own, with no intention of returning it.

This could involve a bookkeeper putting a company’s cash in the bookkeeper’s bank or intentionally destroying or “using up” the property, giving or donating it, or hiding it. To be embezzlement, there must be an intention to convert the property’s ownership away from the rightful owner.

Those charged with embezzlement have defense rights

There are many reasons prosecutors might charge someone who did not commit embezzlement with that crime.

For example, the defendant may have sincerely believed that the property belonged to them, either as a gift, donation, payment or another way. In other words, the defendant had a “good faith” belief that everyone mutually understood the defendant could take ownership.

In other cases, the accused handled the property in a way that fit their job description. Given the accused’s duties, being in possession of the property and using it as they did was allowable and would be required of anybody acting on behalf of the employer.