Embezzlement entails theft; it constitutes the appropriation of funds by an individual entrusted with the money or assets of others. For example, an accountant stealing from a corporation or a principal misappropriating public school funds for personal use. The United States has seen its fair share of famous embezzlement cases over the years, as well as other high profile criminal charges in which embezzlement figured in some form or another.
First National Bank of Chicago
Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested four employees of the First National Bank of Chicago for embezzlement in March of 1988. The case found instant notoriety in the United States on account of the enormous sum of money involved. The First National Bank employees attempted to transfer approximately $70 million to various “dummy” accounts in Australia. A dummy account is an anonymous or untraceable bank used to store funds in cases of theft or embezzlement. Financial firm Merrill Lynch thwarted the theft when it discovered a $20 million overdraft in its account with the bank.
The Continuing Story of Robert Vesco
Financier Robert Vesco proved a prominent figure in a number of famous embezzlement cases throughout the 1970s. The Securities and Exchange Commission accused the former corporate tycoon of embezzling approximately $224 million. Before he stood trial in the United States, Vesco vanished, leading the CIA on a chase that ended in Havana, Cuba, a country that refused to extradite the financier. Vesco also figured into the Watergate scandal and stood accused of making illegal donations of more than $200,000 to Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign in 1973.
The Dane Cook Case
The famous embezzlement case involving comedian Dane Cook came to a conclusion in 2010 when courts found Darryl McCauley, Cook’s half brother, guilty of embezzling millions of dollars. The embezzlement took place between 2004 and 2008, during which time McCauley served as Cook’s business manager. Cook and his half brother had worked together since the start of the comedian’s career early 1990s. Finding the business manager guilty of 27 counts of larceny, as well as forgery and embezzlement, Massachusetts’s courts sentenced McCauley to five to six years in prison. The most egregious single incident involved a check for $3 million McCauley wrote to himself and forged Cook’s signature on.
Girl Scout Embezzlement Scheme
In February 2011, courts charged Edmond, Oklahoma, Girl Scout troop leader Christa Utt with embezzling more than $5,000 from the organization. Utt embezzled funds from the sale of cookies, as well as from a donation made at the request of the deceased mother of one of the troop members.
This case proved part of an ongoing chain of Girl Scout embezzlement cases that have attracted national attention in the United States during the early years of the 21st century. In 2009, California-based Girl Scout bookkeeper Janet Daily embezzled $13,000 from the organization, while Laura Towery Farrell of North Carolina embezzled nearly $8,000 from local Girl Scouts in 2007.
In 2008, financier Bernie Madoff was found guilty of a $50 billion “Ponzi” scheme, a complex form of embezzlement that allowed Madoff to steal money from investors while paying it back with capital earned from new investors. Those new investors would be paid back with capital from other future investors, though none of these people would receive full remuneration. The exposure of Madoff’s scheme and the loss of the funds therein proved devastating for individuals who had invested life savings in the scheme, as well as organizations such as Yeshiva University, which invested important operating capital. The collapse of the scheme seriously impacted stock prices and hedge fund values in numerous sectors.
Other Famous Cases
In November 2009, Matthew Mercuro, chief financial officer for the companies of professional skateboarder Ryan Sheckler, stood accused of embezzling approximately $365,000 from the athlete. In an even more high-profile case, the co-conspirators and widow of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet stood accused of laundering tens of millions in embezzled public funds. Though the embezzlement occurred during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, the case remained open in the first decade of the 21st century.
One of the most famous court cases in American history, the Lindbergh Kidnapping, involved the kidnapping and murder of pilot Charles Lindbergh’s 20-month-old son. Embezzlement was one of the many crimes the perpetrators of the kidnapping were found guilty of.
- Princeton University WordNET: Embezzlement
- New York Times; 4 Men Arrested in Chicago Bank Embezzlement Attempt; Julia Flynn Siler; 1988
- CNN Money; Staking Robert Vesco; Arthur Herzog et al; 1986
- The Boston Globe; Relative Embezzled Millions from Actor; Jonathan Saltzman; 2004
- CBS 8; Girl Scout Bookkeeper Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement Charges; 2009