HARRISBURG—Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery) will introduce legislation to combat organized retail theft in Pennsylvania.
In the works for several months, Stephens’ move comes just as police have broken a major retail theft ring that targeted stores across 11 counties, including Montgomery, by using fake UPC labels to purchase items well below cost. The stolen products were then resold online.
“Organized retail theft in Pennsylvania is a sophisticated crime and a growing problem that in just 2010 cost our Commonwealth an estimated $60 million in sales tax revenue,” Stephens said. “There’s a reason the New Jersey man charged with running the recent organized retail theft ring chose Pennsylvania for his operation – Pennsylvania’s penalty for retail theft is too weak, particularly when compared with the penalties in surrounding states.”
In Pennsylvania, an offense crosses the line from a misdemeanor to a felony when the value of the items stolen exceeds $2,000.
“Currently, a thief who steals an item worth $1,999 from a Pennsylvania retail establishment is charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, even if he or she has a prior conviction. This must change,” Stephens said.
Neighboring states have much tougher penalties.
Theft of an item with a value over $1,000 carries the following sentencing:
• Maryland: Felony with a maximum of 10 years.
• New York: Felony with a maximum of 4 years.
• New Jersey: Felony with a maximum of 5 years.
• District of Columbia: Felony with a maximum 10 years.
• Ohio: Felony with a maximum 12 months.
“We must deter criminal organizations from targeting Pennsylvania retailers and our weak penalties,” Stephens said.
For that reason, Stephens will introduce legislation that will amend the state’s retail theft statute to make it a felony of the third degree punishable by up to seven years in prison if the value of the item stolen is $1,000 or more.
State Representative Todd Stephens
151st District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives