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What is Considered Embezzlement in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania defines many different crimes as different types of theft. A common misconception is that embezzlement is only done by powerful executives or CEOs.

Embezzlement is a type of theft in which someone is given lawful possession of money or property but then takes and uses it for personal gain. Indeed, merely stealing money from a cash register where you work is a form of embezzlement. While the penalties for small amounts of money embezzled are misdemeanors, greater sums will result in felony convictions with long-lasting repercussions well beyond criminal penalties.

Contact our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171 for a confidential case discussion.

What is Embezzlement in Pennsylvania?

Embezzlement is generally defined as the fraudulent use of money or property given to someone as if it were their own. It is a specific kind of theft. 18 Pa.C.S. § 3902 outlines the various types of theft that can occur in Pennsylvania. It is embezzlement when the “theft” that occurs is the appropriation of money that was given to you for a specific purpose.

Embezzlement vs. Regular Theft

Embezzlement is different from stealing in that it matters where the money taken came from. When money is stolen, the thief possesses it unlawfully from the very beginning. With embezzlement, a person comes into possession of the money lawfully. It is only when that person decides to use that money as if it was their own that the crime of embezzlement is committed.

Property can also be embezzled. For example, if you work in a clothing store and are asked to stack a shelf with pairs of pants and then decide to take one of those pairs home for yourself, that is also embezzlement, and you should respond to charges by working with our Pennsylvania embezzlement defense lawyers.

Not Always High Stakes

Embezzlement often brings to mind images of shady business executives stealing millions of dollars from company bank accounts to fund personal expenses. A corporate executive skimming off the top of company earnings to pay for a new pool in their backyard is a classic example of embezzlement.

However, embezzlement is not always a high-brow white-collar crime. All that is required for the crime of embezzlement is that a person uses the money they are entrusted with as if it was their own money. For example, if a cashier gets handed $20 for a t-shirt and then pockets that money instead of putting it in the register, that is still embezzlement.

Pennsylvania’s Retail Theft Statute

While Pennsylvania does not have a law specifically for embezzlement, 18 Pa.C.S. § 3929 defines the offense of “retail theft.” The conduct this statute criminalizes is similar to the crime of embezzlement.

A person commits retail theft when they take possession of, carry away or transfer any merchandise offered for sale with the intention of depriving the merchant of the sale. The abovementioned cashier example would fall under this definition.

It is also retail theft to remove any price tag, label, or other markings from merchandise with the intention of having them sold at less than retail value. For example, if you scratch out the price of an item on its tag and try to buy it at a lower price, that would be retail theft.

If you transfer an item to a container with the intent to deprive a merchant of the retail value of the item, that is retail theft. Shoplifting falls under this category as well.

Retail theft also includes under-ringing items. For example, if you work in a retail store and are told to sell an item for $20 but let your friend buy it from the store for $15 and you are not approved to apply such a discount, you have deprived the store of the full retail value of the item.

Penalties for Embezzlement and Retail Theft in Pennsylvania

The penalties for embezzlement and retail theft in Pennsylvania can be severe. The harshness of the penalty is linked to the monetary value of what was embezzled or stolen. The greater the value of what was stolen, the greater the penalty.

Summary Offenses and Misdemeanors

Retail theft is a summary offense when it is a first offense and when the value of items stolen is less than $150.

Common penalties for summary offenses in Pennsylvania are small fines, community service, and being required to attend certain classes designed to prevent repeat offenses for some time. Higher degrees of summary offenses can result in higher fines or time in prison. Summary offenses are still crimes, and if you are convicted, employers may look into your criminal history and find these offenses therein.

Retail theft is a first-degree misdemeanor if a first or second offense and the value of things stolen is more than $150. A first-degree misdemeanor conviction can result in up to five years in prison.

It is a second-degree misdemeanor if the value of items stolen is less than $150, and it is a second offense. A second-degree misdemeanor conviction can result in a fine of up to $5,000, a prison sentence of up to two years, or both.


Any third offense of retail theft is a third-degree felony. Additionally, it is a third-degree felony if the value of goods stolen is more than $1,000 or if you stole a motor vehicle or a gun. Third-degree felonies are punishable with up to seven years in prison.

If you are convicted of a felony, there will be serious repercussions beyond the criminal penalties. First, you will be in a criminal database for the rest of your life. Second, employers are less likely to hire felons or will not hire them at all. Additionally, you might have a more difficult time obtaining loans and will be prohibited from owning firearms.

Penalties for Large Amounts of Stolen Money

Penalties are harsher if the amount of money stolen is larger. The grading of theft offenses, including embezzlement, is detailed in 18 Pa.C.S. §3903.

Theft of money or property is a first-degree felony when the amount stolen is $500,000 or over. It is a second-degree felony if the amount is $100,000 or more but under $500,000. It is a third-degree felony if the amount exceeds $2,000.

First-degree felony convictions can result in more than ten years in prison. Second-degree felony convictions can have prison terms of ten years or less, and third-degree felony convictions cannot have prison terms exceeding seven years.

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