Theft of Services in New York
New York Penal Law § 165.15 and New York Penal Law § 165.16 outline the legal definition and penalties for theft of services and stealing an intangible item such as a trade, transportation, or utility. The law is very detailed and lists out many different circumstances without limiting who can be charged for the theft. It lists examples of barbers, transportation, utilities, credit, and much more.
Many of the examples listed are those for which payment is rendered after the service.
- You don’t pay your electric bill in advance, or your hairdresser before they cut your hair. The same principle applies here. The law protects your barber and the electric company should you choose to not pay for the services. You cannot return the electricity used or revert your hairstyle back. These services don’t hold a physical value and cannot be reversed or taken back for nonpayment as if a shoplifted item would.
These require protection under this law to prevent someone taking advantage of their trade. New York also lists out that if the individual is a repeat offender within the past five years, they can be charged with a felony rather than a misdemeanor.
It includes the manipulation of equipment, such as a water line or power switch at the property or cables used to ‘share’ services with your neighbor. The additional information allows for repeat offenders to suffer additional penalties and outlines situations in which the charges can be elevated.
The legal definition of theft of services is the use of the services of another using deceit, threats, force or without the intention to pay. The individual must knowingly be using the services that are being provided. This can be done through legal ways or illegal devices.
The second element is that they do not intend to pay and possibly implement diversion tactics that are listed. Without an intention to pay or attempting to dodge the charges, you can criminally be charged.
Element # 1 – “Knowingly” Using the Service
You must be knowingly using the services. Whether you are using the internet that your service technician installed, allowing a mechanic to fix your car, or eating a lovely lunch at a cafe, you are engaging in the use of these services. This also includes the illegal use of the services.
It is possible to manipulate water or electric meter to show a smaller usage. However, this is illegal and can be considered a theft of services. Plugging in a power strip to your neighbors home to power your property, using the cable services they do via password or cable and using a stolen credit card all classify as a theft of services.
Doing these methods is a conscious and physical effort. It is not possible to accidentally to use an antenna and use your neighbor’s television services. These actions are committed deliberately and knowingly. The prosecution would need to show that you were aware you were using these services and chose to engage in such. Let’s compare a final example to show the difference.
- You are staying at a hotel, you’ve paid for your room and board, had a wonderful night rest, and on the way to checkout, you participate in the continental breakfast. They have bagels, muffins, and snacks to last you throughout your day. You enjoy the meal and leave. Many hotels offer this as a complimentary service, so seeing the food out it would appear as though this were the case.
However, in this situation, if the packaged food needed payment, this could be a theft of services without knowledge. You assumed the breakfast was included with your stay like it commonly is. You could not be successfully convicted as there was no sign, and it is a common service that is provided for free.
- Take this same example: you see the free breakfast out and partake in the muffins. Realizing that you don’t want your breath to smell like blueberries, you walk into the small convenience stock that is located at the front desk and takes a name brand mouthwash.
It is common knowledge that hotels provide these for travelers for a fee to help with the small, forgettable items. However, by not using the free off-brand provided and not paying for the convenience that is known to have a cost, you have committed a theft of services with knowledge.
Element # 2 – “Intention” to Not Pay
The second element of this crime is the intention not to pay. This can be accomplished by simply refusing to pay for the services, deception, technological manipulation, force, or even stealth. When services are provided in which payment is completed after, refusing to pay for the service would constitute a theft.
This can include driving off and refusing to pay for the repair of your vehicle. Asking to test drive or taking the keys and leaving without the shop’s knowledge and payment would be a theft. There is also lying to the provider about the ability to pay or asking for an extension and not returning.
This would be like telling the mechanic you left your wallet and home and will come by later to pay for their services. Finally, the manipulation of the technology such as skimmers at gas pumps would constitute a theft. Any method that is used to gain the services without the intention to pay for them be it refusal or a technique described constitutes a theft.
From a federal standpoint, there is not a US Code on stealing services. The section which most closely relates to is a fraud. This entails providing funds for goods or services with the intent to deceive the other party. Here you would be receiving the service with the intention of not paying and thus fraudulently deceiving the other party.
Fraud is stated in the US Code and has several variations. There can also be charges pressed for larceny (if there is a tangible item stolen), robbery or shoplifting. These laws pertain to physical items which hold value. A prosecutor would need to confirm the costs lost to the other merchant and base it on a set price. There is also a possibility for a civil suit from the business or individual that suffered the loss. They can sue for this as a tort.
These cases involve emotional, physical, and conversion. Conversion is the civil version of theft in which the individual is able to sue for the monetary value that would be assigned to an item or service. With any case, it is critical to obtain the advice of an attorney to determine which and if federal statutes will be applied in your case. This would depend on the locations, if it was across state or county lines, amounts, and where the action took place.
What Places You at Risk?
When you go to the store and place an item in your handbasket, walk out the front door and leave the facility; the law considers this stealing. The item that you took had a tangible value to the merchant, and they are allowed to seek compensation. The same principle applies to theft of services. Unlike an item that could be shoplifted, this law pertains to services.
This can include a wide variety such as public transportation, telephone and internet services, transportation costs, utilities, and lodging are just a few of the many examples. Here you would be staying at a hotel, and leaving the facility without paying for a night’s worth of rent. Another example would be the theft of cable services.
This could be done by manipulating the equipment, sharing with another knowingly or not, or using other means of technology to obtain the service with no intention to pay for their usage. This law also states that the use of a stolen credit account to pay for services when you do not intend to pay the credit bill is a theft. What thief steals a credit card and pays the balance? None. This holds them accountable for the services and trades that they pay for with the stolen account.
What is this law meant to do?
This law is meant to protect businesses and trades from harm or theft of their intangible services that hold value. Though you can’t hold your internet (as a utility and a thing- also known as intangibile), it still has a cost, a value. It cost to have the utility lines placed, to keep them in service, to pay the individuals that work for the company, and for the equipment needed to provide this service.
Though you can’t physically see or touch your internet, it has a value to the provider. This law, Article 165 Section 165.15, protects those who provide services. Using any service, trade, transportation, or other intangible utility without having an intention to pay classifies as a violation.
This can be done by not providing the funds (a refusal to pay), misrepresenting yourself, stealth or manipulation, and mechanical failure. By using a form of credit or having these services billed to you, if payment is not submitted it can be seen as though you do not have the intention to pay and thus are stealing the service that was provided.
When looking at the theft of services, the other charges that could be tried also revolve around theft and breach of contract. Theft, burglary, larceny, and robbery involve tangible things with a set value. These values can be applied to the services that were rendered, and thus, these charges could be done in some cases.
Refusing to Pay Your Mechanic
An example of this would be if you refused to pay for your mechanic. They did a great job changing your oil, but you don’t feel like paying for it for whatever reason. You can be charged with the theft of services for the number of costs for labor, but also for the theft of the parts that were used.
The oil, oil filter, and any other parts that you keep within your car can be filed under larceny as you have stolen tangible parts with a set value. It is also important to keep in mind if you signed an agreement with the mechanic. If they provided you with a quote that you signed, stating the amount was agreed upon, it could be seen as a breach of contract.
Service Provider Contracts
This also applies for signing when paying for items with a credit card on the receipt, agreements that are made with service providers like your insurance or cell phone and actual contracts that are signed stating the exchange of funds. These can be charged with or without the theft of services charge. This would depend on the individual circumstances involving your case.
- The first case involves an open investigation against a resident of Pennsylvania. Police are actively searching for a 26-year-old man who allegedly did not pay for $200 in services that were provided to him by a local business. He has not been found at this time but has a warrant for his arrest. Police did not release additional details as this is an ongoing investigation.
- In Port Orange, Florida, a 28-year-old male has been arrested and charged for over $1 million dollars worth of cable services. He allegedly opened an account in a business name and kept the services until they were turned off for nonpayment after 90 days. He called and had new services applied to the same address for a new business name.
He repeated this process over 68 times and received over an estimated million in services from the cable provider. His family and himself claim his innocence. He has not been tried at this time and is awaiting trial. With the first case, the individual is currently being sought after for not paying for services that were provided to him for $200.
He now faces criminal penalties for theft of services and possibly evading arrest. In the FL case, the man opened and closed all of the accounts to avoid paying for the services. He registered the accounts to various addresses in which he never even lived. By doing this, he was able to continue to use his television and internet without paying the bill. After being caught, he now faces criminal charges for his actions.
Who Investigates these Charges?
With the theft of services, the initial complaint is taken by the law enforcement of that jurisdiction. The police are called to the scene to investigate why someone did not or refuses to pay for the services that are being rendered to them. They can immediately arrest, or begin the investigation to pursue the individual for the debt.
In larger cases or those that involve multiple jurisdictions, the FBI can become involved. The FBI possesses its own task force with relation to fraud and white-collar crimes. They can investigate the complaint and determine if there need to be criminal charges pressed to the individual.
This would occur based on the amount, what services, where, and other situation-specific factors that come into play. These cases could start out small as they are sought after for the debt, but can increase depending on if there was a larger scheme or pattern at play.
In New York, the charge for theft of services is considered a class A misdemeanor. This is the worst type of misdemeanor that can be charged. It can include up to a year in prison and fines up to $1,000 or double the amount that was inflicted. These punishments are only for the sole charge of theft of services and if this a first offense.
There is also a limit of $100 dollars for this to be considered a misdemeanor. If there are other charges that were given in conjunction such as larceny or civil cases, those would be separate and can increase this punishment. For repeat offenders or those that have had previous charges for theft of services in the past five years, this is considered a Class E felony.
This is also the case for amounts that are over $1000 in value. With a Class E felony, the punishments can include up to 4 years in prison and fines that are up to double the amount that was inflicted. This charge is also used for those that have a previous conviction or charge of theft of services.
As stated, these charges can be escalated for those that have previously committed these crimes. In charging with a felony, it comes with a loss of certain rights such as voting, gun ownership, and international travel. These are lifelong impacts that remain on your record.
As a misdemeanor, these charges will remain on your background check as well. This can make it difficult to obtain employment in some areas. The amount due for the services in addition to any fines that the court adds will also be your responsibility. The court may also escalate the charge at the discretion of the judge depending on the exact situation that you are involved in.
- The most common defense that is used is that the services were paid for. This can be shown via a receipt, witness statement, bank statement, or other documentation to show that the services were paid for.
This can occur due to mix-ups with the name, address, or other billing identifiers which caused the services not to be paid for as well. If you did not receive a bill, you should always call the service provider. However, this defense has been used in some cases to combat the intent not to pay.
- Another common defense involves the knowledge of the theft. As stated with the breakfast buffet example, if there is confusion on whether you are entitled to the service or not, then there can be an area to state that the charges were not done knowingly and intentionally. You may have eaten food from the buffet, but you didn’t know that there was an admission cost for this hotel.
- Finally, there is a defense strategy for coercion and lack of evidence. Obviously, if the prosecution lacks sufficient evidence to prove the intent and knowledge, and they do not have proper documentation, then there isn’t a strong case. Coercion has been used in some defenses, especially those involving stealing services for manufacturing drugs or powering other illegal activity.
This involves the defendant being forced to steal the services due to threats. Though both of these are uncommon, they can be used to show innocence or doing the crime due to duress.
Why an Attorney?
In every case, there are individual circumstances. This can affect what charges are pursued, what defenses are used, and the possible consequences that are faced. It is critical that if you are facing charges or know someone that is, that you suggest legal advice from a professional.
A trained attorney will know how to demonstrate a lack of knowledge or intent and be able to guide you as to what documentation is needed. There is no substitute for legal advice on these situations.
Governor Andrew Cumo signed legislation to change the Theft of Services. The story begins with Leo Tejera, owner of WT Hair Salon in Olean, NY, faced a difficult situation with a client. The client left and refused to pay their $130 bill. He attempted to contact law enforcement, but the law for theft of services did not apply to his salon. Determine, Tejera filed a civil suit but was only awarded $45 of the bill.
By sharing his loss with local government officials, his case was used as a springboard to allow for the legislation to pass. As of January 2019, now hair salons, barbers, cosmetologist, and other beauty services are now protected under the law of theft of services. This allows for a class A misdemeanor to be charged to clients who refuse to pay for the services they are given. Tejera credits the success to the lawmakers of the area for aiding in his journey.
Carol Hester-Shepard was arrested for:
- Theft of services
Her accomplices, Joe Dallas, and Roberto Graham were charged with
- Theft of services
- Aggravated assault
- Felony possession of a firearm
- Providing a false name
Carol had left her vehicle at a mechanic to undergo repairs. When she with her two accomplices appeared to claim the vehicle, they refused to pay the bill for the repairs. Taking the keys, Carol rammed the vehicle through the gate of the garage. Meanwhile, her accomplices brandished a firearm threatening the owner and assisting in regaining possession of the vehicle. The three have been charged and are awaiting trial.
Tyzay LeeCraft was charged with:
- Theft of services
- Criminal Possession of a weapon
- Criminal Possession of a firearm
Leecraft attempted to board a public transit bus without paying his fair. He claimed that his student pass had run out, but proceeded to board anyways. The police were called to the scene. Upon a search, he was found to have a loaded firearm in his bookbag. The firearm was confiscated by the police while Leecraft fled from police. He was arrested two weeks later following further investigation when he turned himself in. He is now being held until trial.
Melvin Dopp was charged with:
- Theft of services
- Official misconduct
He was found guilty for theft of services but not official misconduct. Dopp was a superintendent for Fulton County in 2017. He allegedly had a truck filled with stones and crew work on his driveway. He used the government workers, supplies, and times to use the town’s material on his personal driveway. He was sentenced to one year in prison for his crime.
Anna Delvey aka Anna Sorokin was charged with:
- Theft of services
- Second-degree larceny
- Multiple Fraud charges
She portrayed herself as a German heiress with a 60 million dollar trust fund. She was able to convince multiple hotels, restaurants, and establishments to provide her with rooms, meals, entrances, free items, and money in exchange for wire transfers that did not come. Delvey also took out a loan for $100,000 under the false pretenses of opening a gallery when instead she went shopping. She was not convicted but was charged as well for a fraud scheme involving a $60,000 vacation she took with another socialite. She convinced her to pay for the luxurious trip and promised to repay. When she did not, the police were contacted. She was found guilty of the charges listed and sentenced to 4-12 years in prison. She has also been fined $24,000 and restitution of $199,000 to those that she conned.