There is a curious case out of Brooklyn where William Powell, 27, fell into a habit of not charging for drinks for customers who could not afford it at his IHOP. The sodas added up to $3,000 to be specific and the owner was not pleased. Powell described himself as “the modern-day Robin Hood.” It would not be surprising if the owner fired Powell, but instead he called the police and now Powell is facing a grand larceny charge.
Store owner Akrell Cox became suspicious when he found Powell’s beverage sales were at six percent of the overall receipt compared to 17-20 percent for other employees who with the same shift and schedule. Cox then reviewed surveillance footage and saw that Powell not charging for sodas.
Powell insisted that “I am not stealing, I am serving the ones in need. I take from the rich and give to the poor.” His free soda policy lasted for six months. Police say that he was simply trying to “get bigger tips.” Perhaps, but is this really a criminal matter?
The state law defines larceny as “A person steals property and commits larceny when, with intent to deprive another of property or to appropriate the same to himself or to a third person, he wrongfully takes, obtains or withholds such property from an owner thereof.”
Despite the spin on the tip angle, Powell was not pocketing the money or consuming the sodas. Many restaurants give waiters liberty in waiving such charges. Just as the practice may have benefitted Powell in tips, it also likely benefitted the restaurants in happy and repeat customers. A defense under the state law is “that the property was appropriated under a claim of a right made in good faith.”
Should this be a larceny charge?