Facing Criminal Charges?

Your Reputation, Finances And Freedom Are On The Line.

Theft Of Services

Theft of services commonly occurs when people steal utilities like electricity, gas, water, or other services like cable, telephone or telecommunications. A person could be charged with theft of cable services if they purchase an illegal scrambler device, and attach it to their TV using their cable company’s wire in order to obtain cable services without paying.

Yet, theft of services can also occur under much simpler circumstances, like when someone walks out on the check at a restaurant. But however the offense is committed, one thing is for sure, you need an attorney. My name is Anthony N. Palumbo, and I have the extensive knowledge of defense tactics that it takes to fight a theft of service charge. I am a former prosecutor with over 35 years of experience representing clients throughout New Jersey including the counties of Union, Somerset, Middlesex, and Essex.

Contact me today by calling 908-272-9700 for a free initial consultation, and we will talk about defenses that could work for you. In the meantime, take a look at this webpage. While it can’t replace the valuable role an experienced attorney can play in your case, it should help answer some of your immediate questions.

Potential Consequences For Theft Of Services Charges

It can be very tempting to steal a service, especially from a huge organization when it doesn’t seem like anyone will even notice one little person taking a service that hundreds of thousands are paying for. Unfortunately, this seemingly harmless act can result in serious penalties if it results in a conviction including fines of over $250,000 and up to 10 years in prison.

If you’ve been charged with theft of services, you need an experienced theft defense attorney who understands the elements of the crime and knows which defenses can result in a dismissal. With over 35 years of criminal trial experience, I have defended countless of individuals accused of these crimes, and have obtained numerous downgrades and dismissals for my clients.

Understanding Theft Of Services

According to N.J.S.A 2C:20-8, in order to be guilty of theft of services in New Jersey, there are several elements or building blocks that the prosecution must put together in order to obtain a conviction. Each element of the crime must be proved in order for a conviction so if your defense attorney can knock even one of the blocks down, your charge will be dismissed. An experienced theft attorney can easily identify weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, and will know immediately which elements to strike at.

The elements for theft of services are different depending on what kinds of services are being stolen. Let’s take a look at some of the basics required for a theft of services offense.

  • Obtaining the services: The accused must have actually gotten the services or diverted them to another person who was not entitled.
  • Compensation: The services cannot have been free, but must have only been available if they were paid for.
  • Awareness: The accused must have been aware that the services were only available if they were paid for. An experienced defense attorney may choose to defend a case by showing the accused was not aware of this fact.
  • Intent: The accused must have had the intent or mind set to get services without paying. There must have been some act taken by the accused which was deceptive, like an overt act to steal the services. Simply accepting the services is not enough because there is no intent to mislead.

What Are Services?

“Services” include labor or professional service; transportation, telephone, telecommunications, electric, water, gas, cable television, or other public service; accommodation in hotels, restaurants or elsewhere; entertainment; admission to exhibitions; use of vehicles or other movable property.

Where compensation for service is ordinarily paid immediately upon the rendering of such service, as in the case of hotels and restaurants, absconding without payment or offer to pay gives rise to a presumption that the service was obtained by deception as to intention to pay.

Theft Of Electric, Gas Or Water Service

In New Jersey, it is a crime to tamper or disconnect a meter, connection, conduit, pipe, wire or to utilize a device for the purpose of obtaining electricity, gas or water service. The elements to prove theft of electric, gas, or water service are a little bit different than for other services. For example, unlike the general elements for theft of services above, when stealing utilities, it does not need to be shown that a person actually received the services, only that they stole them. Let’s take a look at the elements required for stealing utility services:

  • Tampering: The accused must have somehow tampered with the utility services
  • Intent to Manipulate: The accused must have intended to control or avoid the recording of the utility services.
  • Without Permission: The accused must not have had permission to tamper.
  • Intent: The accused must have had the intent to defraud. An experienced defense attorney may be able to have a case dismissed if it can be shown that the accused did not have the proper intent to commit the offense. This is one of the many reasons why it is so important to have an experienced defense attorney.

Theft Of Cable Services

New Jersey law prohibits unauthorized cable service and the manufacturing, sale or installation of equipment or devices intended to facilitate unauthorized cable service. Just like utilities, cable services also have their own set of elements that must be proved in order for a conviction. Let’s take a look at these elements:

  • Intent: The accused must have had the intention to get the cable without paying.
  • Tampering: The accused must have tampered with services or used devices to get the services without paying.
  • Cable Wire: The accused must have used the cable company’s wire in order to get the cable.

Theft Of Telephone Or Telecommunications Service

The state of New Jersey prohibits unauthorized telephone and telecommunication service and the manufacturing, sale or installation of devices to obtain unauthorized telephone service. Again, the elements for this particular service offense are a slightly different than theft of cable services or utilities. Let’s look at the elements for theft of telephone and communications services.

  • Intent: The accused must have had the intent or mindset to take the services from the company. Thus, a person’s conduct must be purposely and knowingly.
  • Unauthorized Use: The accused must have obtained the services by some kind of an unauthorized electronic or mechanical device or connection or unauthorized billing information, or by the use of a computer, computer equipment or computer software, or by the use of misidentifying or misleading information given to a representative.


There are different attaching penalties depending on which service was stolen. It is important to note that the penalties may be increased depending on how long the accused was getting the services without paying. Charges may be upgraded to 4th degree crimes which carry penalties of up to 18 months in prison, 3rd degree crimes which carry penalties of up to 5 years in prison, or even 2nd degree crimes which carry penalties of 5 to 10 years in prison.

Additionally, both theft of electric, gas or water utilities and theft of cable services are disorderly persons offenses, with penalties including:

  • Up to 6 months in prison
  • $1,000 in fines

Theft of telephone or telecommunications services is a 3rd degree crime, which can result in penalties such as:

  • Up to 5 years in prison
  • $15,000 in fines

In addition to the fines that attach to the charge, there is an additional $500 fine for each theft of service charge, if it results in a conviction.

To view the entire New Jersey statute on theft of services, see N.J.S.A 2C:20-8.

With over 35 years of experience as a Theft Defense Attorney, I have obtained thousands of favorable outcomes including downgrades or dismissal of charges.

If you have been charged with theft of services, you need an experienced lawyer on your side. While every case is unique, I can defend your case in any number of ways by proving you did not have the requisite intent to be convicted, you were not aware that the services were only available if you paid for them, or even knocking evidence out of court due to violations of your constitutional rights.

Facing charges this serious alone is frightening, but you don’t have to go it alone. Contact me today for a free initial consultation at 908-272-9700 .