Most people would think “retail theft” is a fancy way of saying shoplifting. While it’s true that Pennsylvania’s law prohibiting retail theft applies to anyone caught shoplifting, the law can also apply to those charged with stealing motor fuel.
Motor fuel theft, also known as a drive-off, is surprisingly a relevant crime despite advances in gas station security and fuel monitoring technologies. Earlier this year, police officers released photos of two drivers who stole more than $3,000 worth of fuel in Bucks County.
According to officials, they believe the drivers are working together as they knew how to bypass the pay system and used the same fuel pump. The police also suspect that the drivers – one who uses a flatbed truck, the other a Ford F-150 – had fitted their vehicles with aftermarket fuel tanks designed to hold more gas than usual.
The penalties for fuel theft
Under Pennsylvania law, those charged with motor fuel theft face the same penalties as regular retail theft. If the value of the fuel stolen is less than $150, a convicted person faces a summary offense, which carries a maximum $300 fine and up to 90 days in jail. But for $1,000 worth of fuel or more stolen – or if it’s the person’s third or subsequent offense – the conviction goes all the way up to a felony of the third degree. A third-degree felony leads to a maximum $15,000 fine and up to seven years in prison.
On top of the penalties for retail theft, those convicted of fuel theft face additional punishments:
- First offense: The convicted must pay a fine between $100 and $250.
- Second offense: The convicted must pay a fine between $250 and $500.
- Third or subsequent offense: The convicted must pay a fine of not less than $500. A court may also instead suspend the person’s driving privileges for 30 days. It will also submit a copy of this court order to the state Department of Transportation.
To summarize, motor fuel theft cases are prosecuted similarly to retail theft cases – except the convictions lead to more costly penalties. Any motorist accused of a drive-off shouldn’t take the criminal charge lightly because heavy fines and a prison sentence await them.