Embezzlement in Chicago: Unjust Enrichment Under Public Focus

800px-One_US_dollar_note_0127_22Whenever another story comes in, there is shock from the legal and non-legal community. Even as the defendant desperately seeks an attorney; the prosecutor is working full-time to ensure a conviction and an exemplary sentence. The annals of embezzlement in Chicago include the relatively recent case of Caryn Benson, a former Field Museum employee who managed to embezzle up to $400,000 without getting noticed. Even as the case its case made its way through the courts, there was a lot of interest from the legal community in terms of establishing the technicalities of the crime and the responses of the court. Museums are normally places of leisure and cultural enlightenment. One would not expect large-scale and sustained thefts to be taking place there over a period of ten years.

Interestingly, Benson admitted to only half a million whereas the employer protested that the figure was closer to one million. In the event a compromise was reached on the understanding that the culprit would be spending some time in jail. The guidelines are in the range of 35-40 months, a penalty that some may consider to be harsh given the fact that the courts have handled cases of large scale corporate fraud that has led to the loss of millions. The aggravating circumstances in this case include the fact that the crime took over a long period of time and the defendant had been in a position of trust. The negotiation for a plea agreement is an interesting lesson for defense attorneys where the facts of the case indicate that a long drawn out trial may not yield the results that the prosecutor is looking for. This puts the defense at an advantage and in this case the attorney got the best possible deal for the client.

Understanding the Legal Ramifications of Embezzlement

The term embezzlement is a great euphemism for grand theft. Of course the ugly word that is theft is used for the lower classes and minority defendants. Those who are in white collar roles are given gentle terms to describe their misdeeds. Nevertheless Judge James Zagel was in no mood to play the leniency game at the District Court. The defendant was badly advised to appear wearing faux fur; surely some kind of provocation to the public. The fact that the defendant was released on bail after the plea is an indicator of the advantages of defending those who are in privileged positions. It is doubtful that the court would be so accommodating for a street thug in Chicago. The defense team has been pushing for a lighter sentence of up to two years in custody.

Negotiating a Plea Bargain

The facts of the case have that other-worldly dimension that has always been a core ingredient of embezzlement crimes. First you have Benson who has comfortably employed as a Field Museum officer between 2003 and 2014. As a data records supervisor, she decided to retain cash payments made for memberships including the money that was paid for drinks tickets at special events. Many remarked at the laxity of security at the Natural History Museum which allowed for such misdeeds to go on for so long. The prosecutor eventually agreed to a one-off please for a single count of embezzlement which involved the lifting of just over $33,000 at the beginning of 2014. An internal audit discovered the anomalies and the employee was fired.

Later on a forensic audit was commissioned and showed that up to $900,000 was missing from the accounts. The government insists that the restitution hearing should consider the higher figure as the starting point. Anthony Sassan defending argues that his client only acknowledged the lesser amount of $33,000 and that is what should be pursued. Later on Benson admitted that she embezzled an additional $380,000 as part of the plea bargain.