A former Chief Financial Officer of a Mississippi town of about 24,000 has been arrested on allegations that he took money from the city’s treasury and diverted it to his personal use.

The State Auditor said that the man diverted almost $290,000. The city’s budget is $33 million. Including interest and the costs of the State Auditor’s investigation, the State Auditor has demanded the man repay $355,000.

The State Auditor did not have the authority to initiate an audit of the city’s books, but an account who was conducting her own routine audit on the city’s behalf noticed what she thought was irregular spending and contacted the State Auditor.

The city official faces decades in prison

Mississippi law imposes harsh punishments for the crime of embezzlement.

Embezzlement is a white-collar crime which authorities commonly charge against public officials and those who handle money in a business. However, even a private individual, like a trustee of a trust, can face an embezzlement charge.

Anyone accused of taking money or other property that has been entrusted to them for use by a business or government can face an embezzlement charge, even if their intention is to pay the money back or restore the property.

How serious the possible penalties are depends on the amount of money involved. A person accused of embezzling more than $25,000 faces 20 years in prison and may also pay a fine.

While even people in high places can make errors in judgement, in other cases, accusations of embezzlement are exaggerated or even politically motivated.

An occasional bad decision does not make a person a criminal, after all, and an accused person has the right to present a vigorous criminal defense.