Interviewer: Theft of services – what is that? Let’s move into the theft of services definition.
Sam Sachs: Theft of services is, for example, when I hire someone to clean my house and then refuse to pay them. Or I hire them to provide a service to me and I stop payment on with my check after the service is provided. It’s a theft of service. I enter into a contract and don’t perform my side of it.
There are other thefts too. Cyber crime is a huge problem. I’ve represented many people that get possession of people’s credit card information. There is a little device you can buy on the Internet that you can run a credit card through that scans the information that then can be downloaded on a computer. They can do that when you go in a restaurant and you hand them your card. One of the wait staff scans or copies down your information and then tries to use it to purchase stuff on the Internet.
I’ve had one woman I defended who was taking information from patients. She worked in a medical office and was taking credit card information. There are regulations now about being able to keep people’s credit card information in your files. You have to destroy it, but lots of businesses don’t comply. We have clients that pay us by credit card that send us their credit card number and their expiration date and their pin numbers in emails without it even being encrypted. That’s crazy. If anybody hacks their account, they can get their credit card information.
We’ve all read in the news about hackers that go and take massive amounts of personal information. We’ve represented a defendant that was actually running a ring where they had people all over the area collecting credit card data and they actually had equipment to burn the info into credit cards and then they would use the credit cards to buy gift cards and then sell them.
There are lots of aspects to theft. Also, receiving stolen property falls under the theft field. If someone comes to you and says, “I’ve got these 50-inch flat screen LCDs. You want one for $100?” then you probably should figure that it’s stolen goods.
Interviewer: Why wouldn’t you pay someone for a service? Wouldn’t they just call the collection agencies and try to get the money from me that way? What makes it a crime?
Sam Sachs: Criminal prosecution is easier than civil collection.
I had this case where a guy really had serious mental problem. He goes into a restaurant, he orders breakfast, he has like an eight-dollar tab, and he walks out without paying for it. That’s theft of services. If you go and get a haircut and then walk out and don’t pay for it – that’s theft of services. I take my car in for repair and don’t pay for it, then in the middle – and I’ve had this happen – a guy goes and has another set of keys and takes the car off the lot. That’s theft of services.
Sometimes they’re very creative. The gasoline pumps are all electronic now so you have to put the credit card in ahead of time. Remember on the old pumps when you used to have to turn the knob to zero it out? Well, what some gas station attendants would do is somebody comes in and pumps five dollars worth of gas and they wouldn’t zero it out, so they started the next person pumping as if they had already received five dollars of gas. I had a case just like that when I was a judge where one of the gas stations was not zeroing out the meter, so they’d start the pump at five or ten dollars, which was the last guy’s purchase, and it was tacked onto yours. That was absolutely theft. I was actually shocked. Sometimes the cleverness of people trying to do this stuff is amazing to me.
Interviewer: Of all these scenarios you’ve talked about, what are the most common ones that you’ve seen when people come to you?
Sam Sachs: We’re seeing more and more cyber crime. We’re seeing more and more crime where people are stealing identities. I’ve represented people that have criminal charges all over the place, but none that they committed because someone has stolen their identity. Then of course I’ve represented people that have actually stolen someone’s identity and then used the information to obtain credit cards.
You have to be vigilant about this as an individual. I probably get solicitations for credit cards 10-12 times a week, and I take every application and put it through a shredder because someone could pull it out of my garbage and then go ahead and apply for credit card in my name. We’ve represented people that have done that and I’ve also helped people that have been accused of committing crimes when someone else was using their identity.
It’s a growing area and most people are very unsophisticated and very naïve in providing information. Someone calls me up and says, “I’m from XYZ bank and we just need to verify your account number and your identification on the back of your card.” Whatever. “I’m not telling you anything. I have no idea who you are. You give me the phone number where I can call you back so I can verify you’re really at the bank or I’m not talking to you.” Identity thieves do that and most people are unsophisticated and will provide any information without any questions asked. Then the next thing you know, all of a sudden somebody has bought a set of golf clubs and a pony. It’s the way it goes.
Interviewer: So do you represent more defendants that are actually victims?
Sam Sachs: I always represent defendants, but sometimes defendants are falsely accused. I had a case years ago where a guy had his best man from his wedding using his identity and got arrested in multiple jurisdictions on criminal charges pretending he was the groom. The groom was my client. So I went to six or seven courts with him. We asked for identification hearings and asked, “Hey, Officer,” or “Hey, Store Manager, is this the guy that did it?” And they would say, “No, he’s not the guy.” We had pictures from this guy’s wedding saying, “Here is the best man, do you recognize him?” “Yeah, he’s the guy.” I had to defend him on a bunch of charges that weren’t his.
I’m a criminal defense attorney. I’m always defending people, sometimes who are falsely accused because the crimes were perpetrated on them, and other times because they are the perpetrators, and I need to do the best I can to make sure the State has enough to prove their case so they don’t get falsely convicted and then mitigate whatever the penalties are going to be.
It’s two-fold. One is that, as I said before, I don’t care what my client did or didn’t do. My work is to see what the State can prove. I’ve got to see if the State can prove it. If not, under our system, you walk free. If the State can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, then my job is to humanize the client to the prosecutor and the judge and make sure that whatever penalties are handed out are mitigated, or take it to trial if they won’t be reasonable about it.
I want to see what a possible plea outcome is going to be. If the client agrees that they would rather risk a trial than take a sure deal, the case will go to trial. A very small percentage of cases get tried. But sometimes if you have unreasonable prosecutors or harsh judges you have to go ahead and try the cases. That’s it.
Interviewer: Let’s go into identity theft. What constitutes identity theft?
Sam Sachs: Well, identity theft is pretending you’re somebody you’re not and obtaining goods and/or services as a result of it, or committing crimes or offenses and saying you’re somebody that you’re not. You get arrested for drunk driving. “I don’t have my license. My name is Joe Murphy.” You know John Murphy or you found out that he exists and say, “I live on 123 West Street in Englewood, New Jersey. My name is Joe Murphy.” A cop types it in and doesn’t get your photograph but sees that he can verify that information. They issue the ticket to Joe Murphy.
Sometimes they’ll even go in and pay your ticket to not get detected. I’ve seen cases where people were arrested for DUI, gave a friend or a relative’s name, went in and pled guilty and it’s only after the DMV contacted the person whose name was used that they find out that someone used their identity and there’s a guilty plea and penalties.
Interviewer: It’s crazy. You had cases like that?
Sam Sachs: Oh yes, like this one I told you about with what the best man did to the groom. He was arrested in seven different jurisdictions. Or it also could be just applying for credit cards in someone else’s name. I find out some information about you and sometimes somebody hacks an account or an email. There are actually places on the Internet where you can buy these things. It’s not as big a secret as everybody thinks it is. You can buy credit card machines that manufacture credit cards. I’ve had clients arrested for doing that.
Interviewer: What about auto theft? Is that a charge that people frequently get charged with?
Sam Sachs: I get those from time to time. Most of the ones that I can recall are people that rent vehicles and don’t turn them back in. At some point, even though they’ve got them under a rental contract, it turns into a situation where they didn’t have the right to keep them.
Occasionally you’ll have car owners. People think that they can make their own informal rules about transferring vehicles. Transferring a vehicle is like transferring real estate. It has to be registered. Somebody will take a vehicle and say, “You know I’ll pay for it, but I’ll keep driving on your tags.” Then of course they don’t pay for it so it’s reported as a theft and those things just get messy.
Interviewer: So it is a different area of law, or is it just based upon the value of the vehicle?
Sam Sachs: Theft of a motor vehicle Is a crime of the third degree, but can be a crime of the third or fourth degree if the intent is only to keep the car temporarily, depending upon the circumstances.
Interviewer: Do you know if there’s a special provision that because it’s a vehicle it’s a different type of theft?
Sam Sachs: Yes, there are some statues that pertain to theft of conveyances under different circumstances. They’re technical, but there are specific things that apply to different crimes, like cyber crime. There are special rules about if you steal cargo from a vehicle. There are several pages of statutes that apply to specific offenses. I was just talking about thefts in general. For instance, an unlawful taking of means of conveyance has its own special section, like shoplifting has its own special section in the law.