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Theft of Services in New York City

Last updated on: June 22, 2023

By Lebedin Kofman LLP

In New York City, theft of services is a significant concern that involves unlawfully obtaining services without paying for them or attempting to evade payment. This offense covers a range of situations where individuals or businesses intentionally benefit from services without fulfilling their financial obligations. It can occur in various contexts, such as public transportation, utilities, telecommunications, and more.

Theft of services may not be the first offense that comes to mind when thinking of theft crimes. However, charges and a conviction of theft of services can carry long-standing consequences for a person accused of such a crime. If you have been charged with a criminal offense in New York City, having experienced legal representation on your side is important. 

At Lebedin Kofman LLP, our team of skilled New York City criminal defense lawyers can assist in conducting a comprehensive evaluation of your case and building a tailored legal defense strategy aimed at reducing or dismissing the charges entirely. We understand the potential impact a conviction may have on an individual’s future and work diligently to protect our clients’ rights. Contact us today at (646) 663-4430 to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.

What is Theft of Services in New York?

Theft of services is a broad term used to describe a wide range of criminal actions, involving the unlawful acquisition of certain services without paying for them. In New York City, theft of services is a common crime that may include offenses like evading subway fares, using a stolen cable TV connection, or dining and dashing at a restaurant. Other examples include using utilities without proper authorization, such as electricity or water, and fraudulently receiving professional services.

Although these acts might appear to be petty offenses to some, the cumulative cost and impact on businesses, consumers, and taxpayers can be substantial. Theft of services is a violation of both state and city laws and can result in fines, incarceration, and civil liabilities.

In New York State, theft of services is defined and penalized under Penal Law Section 165.15. According to this statute, a person is guilty of theft of services if they, with intent to avoid payment for the service, obtain or attempt to obtain the service by means including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Using deception, trickery, or other dishonest means to avoid payment.
  • Using force or the threat of force to avoid payment.
  • Tampering with equipment to obtain unauthorized access to services.
  • Using a false or stolen service device or providing one to another person.
  • Stealing another person’s labor or professional services.

In New York City, theft of services is closely related to local ordinances, such as the NYC Administrative Code Section 14-172, which specifically targets subway fare evasion and other transit-related thefts.

Depending on the specific circumstances of the offense, theft of services may be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. Misdemeanor charges typically result in up to one year in jail, while felony charges may lead to significant prison sentences and hefty fines.

In addition to criminal penalties, a person may also face civil lawsuits for damages caused as a result of their theft of services. For example, restaurants, utility companies, and other service providers may sue to recover the cost of stolen services, as well as any additional damages permitted under the law.

Statistics on Theft of Services Incidents

The true scale of theft of services in New York City is difficult to measure, due to the wide range of offenses that fall under this category and the likelihood that many such crimes go unreported. However, some data on specific types of theft of services offenses is available, such as fare evasion on the NYC subway system.

According to a report from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in 2023, it is estimated the city lost over $500 million in the previous year due to unpaid fares. In addition to the financial losses, increased enforcement efforts and policing targeting theft of services crimes have resulted in more arrests and summonses. There were approximately 40,323 tickets issued for fare evasion and an overall increase of 64% in transportation-related arrests in 2022 compared to 2021.

As such, due to the significant media attention and impact on public services, law enforcement officials are taking steps to crack down on those who are charged with theft of services. Individuals charged with theft of services crimes may face more stringent prosecutors and heightened penalties as the pressure to reduce fare evasion is evident. 

If you have been charged with theft of services in New York, it is important to retain the services of an experienced attorney who can help defend your rights and best interests against your charges. Contact Lebedin Kofman LLP today to learn more about how we can help you.

Types of Theft of Services Incidents in NYC

In New York City, theft of services generally refers to unlawfully obtaining services without paying for them or finding ways to avoid payment. Here are some different types of theft of services incidents that can occur in NYC:

Transportation Fare Evasion

One of the most common types of theft of services in New York City (NYC) is transportation fare evasion. This type of theft occurs when an individual avoids paying the required fare for transportation services such as subways, buses, taxis, and rideshare services like Uber and Lyft.

Subway and Bus

Millions of people use New York City’s public transportation system, including subways and buses, every day. Fare evasion in these transportation systems typically involves individuals jumping turnstiles, entering through emergency exit gates, or not paying the correct fare at ticket vending machines. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) regularly conducts inspections and takes measures to prevent fare evasion, such as installing high-entry/exit turnstiles and increasing staff presence.

Taxis and Rideshare Services

Theft of services in taxis and rideshare services like Uber and Lyft occurs when passengers refuse to pay the appropriate fare or leave the vehicle before doing so. This type of theft can have serious consequences for taxi drivers and rideshare partners, who depend on fare revenue for their income and often have to cover expenses like fuel, vehicle maintenance, and insurance.

Utility Theft

Another common type of theft of services in NYC is utility theft, which involves individuals bypassing or tampering with meters to avoid paying for electricity, gas, water, and telecommunications services.

Electricity, Gas, and Water

Utility theft often occurs when individuals tamper with electric, gas, or water meters to underreport or bypass usage. This type of theft can be dangerous and lead to fires, gas leaks, or water damage. Additionally, utility theft can result in higher costs for other customers, as the utility company may need to increase prices to cover lost revenue and repair the damaged infrastructure.

To combat utility theft, utility companies employ a variety of methods, such as regularly inspecting meters and using smart meter technology to detect and prevent tampering.

Telecommunications and Internet

Theft of telecommunications services, such as cable TV and internet, is another common type of theft of services in NYC. This type of theft typically involves individuals connecting to a telecommunications provider’s network without authorization, either by tapping into a neighbor’s connection or by using a stolen account.

Telecommunications theft has serious consequences, including lost revenue for providers and compromised network capacity for legitimate customers. To combat this type of theft, telecommunications companies implement various security measures, such as account password protection and regular audits of their network connections.

Service Industry Theft

Theft of services in the service industry, which includes businesses like restaurants, bars, hotels, and lodging establishments, is another type of service theft in NYC.

Restaurant and Bar Theft

Theft of services in restaurants and bars primarily involves customers who do not pay for their meals or drinks, often referred to as “dine and dash” incidents. This type of theft can be financially detrimental to businesses, leading to lost revenue and strained relationships with suppliers.

To combat theft in the restaurant and bar industry, establishments implement various strategies, such as requiring payment upfront, requiring a credit card hold for large parties, or using a digital payment system that links directly to a customer’s account.

Hotel and Lodging Theft

Hotels and lodging establishments also face theft of services incidents when guests attempt to avoid paying for their stay. This type of theft may involve using fraudulent credit card information, disputing charges after checkout, or departing the premises without settling the bill.

Hotels and lodging establishments often combat theft of services through various security measures, such as requiring a credit card hold at check-in, implementing keycard systems to track guest movement within the property, and employing front desk staff trained to identify potential thieves.

Policing and Enforcement

Policing and enforcement play a vital role in mitigating theft of services, and several city agencies are working in tandem to prevent and address such offenses.

Role of NYPD and Other City Agencies

The New York City Police Department (NYPD) has a significant responsibility to combat and reduce the theft of services in the city. They have specialized teams and divisions to inspect, prevent, and apprehend individuals involved in these offenses. Police officers receive training to detect criminal activity related to the theft of services, from turnstile jumpers in the subway to those stealing utility services.

The NYPD is not the only agency attempting to curtail these offenses; various other city agencies work in tandem with the NYPD to combat and prevent theft of services. For instance, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) works together with the NYPD to prevent and detect incidents of transit fare evasion. Similarly, the New York Department of Environmental Protection works to enforce regulations against water theft, while the Department of Buildings investigates and enforces the law against illegal conversions and substandard housing conditions.

Arrest and Prosecution Process

When an offense related to theft of services is detected, the apprehending officer assesses the situation and, depending on the circumstances, can issue a summons, make an arrest, or initiate an investigation.

When a summons is issued, the offender is required to appear in court to answer for the charges. If the offender fails to appear, an arrest warrant may be issued. The offender is brought to a precinct for processing when an arrest is made. At this point, they may be fingerprinted, photographed, and held in custody until their court appearance. In some cases, an arrested individual may be released on their own recognizance or after posting bail.

Once the criminal case reaches the court, the offender may face charges, including misdemeanor theft of services, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail. In more severe cases, such as repeat offenders or the theft of significant amounts of resources, felony charges may be brought, which have more severe penalties.

Even though the risk of jail time for first-time offenders is low, it is still crucial to take charges of theft of services seriously. A conviction of such a crime can have serious consequences on a person’s reputation and can affect their professional prospects. 

Possible Defenses to Theft of Services Charges 

With the help of a skilled criminal defense attorney and depending on the circumstance of your case, you may be able to use the following defenses to reduce the charges or have them dismissed:

  • Lack of intent: One possible defense is to argue that you did not have the intent to commit theft of services. This defense suggests that there was no deliberate intention to avoid paying for a service or to obtain services unlawfully.
  • Lack of knowledge: You may argue that you were unaware that you were receiving services without proper payment or that you were mistaken about the terms of the agreement. Showing that you genuinely believed you had the right to access the service without payment could be a defense.
  • Consent: If you can establish that you had consent from the service provider or owner to use the services without payment, it could be a valid defense against theft of services charges.
  • Disputing the value of services: Another possible defense is to challenge the value attributed to the services provided. You may argue that the services were overpriced or that the amount claimed as theft is inaccurate.
  • Lack of evidence: Challenging the evidence presented against you is another defense strategy. It involves questioning the prosecution’s ability to prove that you intentionally and unlawfully obtained services without payment.
  • Duress or coercion: If you were forced or coerced into obtaining services without payment, you may raise a defense based on duress or coercion. You would need to demonstrate that you acted under significant threats or pressure that left you with no reasonable alternative.
  • Mistaken identity: If there is a case of mistaken identity, and you can prove that you were not the person who committed the alleged theft of services, it could be a valid defense.

It’s crucial to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney in New York to understand the specific laws, legal precedents, and defense strategies relevant to your case. They can evaluate the details of your situation and provide you with the best guidance and representation.

Possible Defenses to Theft of Services Charges Details
Lack of intent Argue that there was no deliberate intention to avoid paying for a service or to obtain services unlawfully.
Lack of knowledge Claim that you were unaware of receiving services without proper payment or mistaken about the terms of the agreement.
Consent Establish that you had consent from the service provider or owner to use the services without payment.
Disputing the value of services Challenge the value attributed to the services provided, arguing they were overpriced or the claimed amount is inaccurate.
Lack of evidence Question the prosecution’s ability to prove intentional and unlawful acquisition of services without payment.
Duress or coercion Demonstrate that you acted under significant threats or pressure, leaving you with no reasonable alternative.
Mistaken identity Prove that you were not the person who committed the alleged theft of services due to mistaken identity.

Getting the Help of an Experienced Manhattan Criminal Defense Attorney from Lebedin Kofman LLP

If you have been charged with theft of services in New York, working with a skilled criminal defense attorney is crucial. At Lebedin Kofman LLP, our seasoned criminal defense attorneys have a deep understanding of the relevant laws and regulations in New York. Our attorneys can help you navigate the legal system effectively and build a strong defense strategy tailored to your case.

Being convicted of a theft crime can have serious legal and non-legal consequences on a person’s life. At Lebedin Kofman LLP, our team works diligently to provide aggressive legal representation to our clients and ensure that their rights are safeguarded. To learn more about how we can help you, contact us today at (646) 663-4430 to schedule a free, confidential consultation.

Criminal Defense

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