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State v. Riggins

    Citation

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    Bloomberg Law

    Brief Fact Summary. Defendant was found guilty of embezzlement. The Court seeks to determine whether a collection agent can be found guilty of embezzlement under the statutory scheme in the State of Illinois.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. An individual who acts as an agent receiving money in a fiduciary capacity is within the purview of the embezzlement statute.

    Facts. Defendant Riggins was the owner and operator of a collection agency in Rockford, Illinois. He maintained an office with both full and part-time employees, and had a clientele of about 500 persons and firms for whom he collected delinquent accounts. The complaining witness, Dorothy Tarrant, reached an oral agreement with Riggins whereby he would undertake collections for her company. Under the agreement, Riggins would receive one third on city accounts and one-half on out-of-city accounts. The amounts collected did not need to be accounted for until a bill was paid in full. The evidence is unclear as to whether Riggins was supposed to give a check for the entire amount collected and then receive commission, or whether he was capable of deducting his commission and account for only the net amount due. Tarrant exercised no control over Riggins as to the time and manner of collecting the accounts. She also knew that Riggins commingled the funds for all his clients in a single bank
    account that was also used as a personal account. Tarrant became aware that Riggins had collected several accounts for her in full but had not told her about them. Thereafter, Riggins was indicted for embezzlement and found guilty of the charge by a jury.

    Issue. Can a collection agent be found guilty of embezzlement under the statutory scheme in the state of Illinois?

    Held. Yes. Conviction affirmed.
    The crime of embezzlement is established by statute. The general embezzlement statute and the special statute under which the Defendant was indicted are relevant here. The statute provides that a person shall be punished regardless of whether any such officer, agent, clerk, servant, solicitor, broker or apprentice has any commission interest in such money.

    In this case, the Defendant acted as agent for the complaining witness in collecting her accounts and undertook the collections on her behalf by virtue of authority delegated to him. He had no right to collect from anyone except as authorized by her and was required to render a full account of all matters entrusted to him. The duties are the same duties of any agent.

    Furthermore, the term agent as used in the statute is used in its ordinary sense as meaning a person who undertakes to transact some business or manage an affair of another by the latter’s authority. The Defendant was an “agent” of the complaining witness receiving money in a “fiduciary capacity” and was therefore within the purview of the embezzlement statute.

    Dissent. Judge Schaefer dissenting: The record shows that Defendant was not an agent. Defendant maintained his own office, had his own employees, and collected accounts for hundreds of other individuals and firms. His customers did not exercise any control over him. The majority concludes that the Defendant was an agent based on an assertion that the term agent as used in the embezzlement statute is construed in its ordinary sense. This runs counter to the basic tenet that criminal statues are strictly construed.

    Discussion. The vital question in this case is whether the Defendant was the agent of the complaining witness based on the circumstances surrounding the business agreement and the definition of the term “agent.”


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