William Powell’s intentions may have been pure, but that doesn’t mean he gets to do what he thinks is right at someone else’s expense.
A self-proclaimed “modern day Robin Hood” has been arrested after the former IHOP employee allegedly gave out thousands of dollars worth of free drinks to customers in Downtown Brooklyn.
According to the criminal complaint, William Powell, 27, has been charged with multiple counts of grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property, and petit larceny after he allegedly gave out over $3,000 worth of free drinks to customers between August 2015 and February 2016 at the IHOP at 253 Livingston Street.
The complaint states that Powell defended himself after being taking into custody: “I am the modern day Robin Hood, I am not stealing, I am serving the ones in need, I take from the rich and give to the poor,” he said. “What’s the big deal, I’ve been doing this since I started here.”
Serving the ones in need seems like a wonderful thing to do. And had Powell pulled cash out of his own pocket to pay for the drinks he served them, but didn’t want them charged for, we would all applaud his charity. Or maybe if he worked for free in compensation for the freebies he was handing out. Or even if he asked his employer first, obtained permission and then gave the poor free drinks.
All laudable conduct. What is not acceptable is that Powell decided that it was his right to be noble with someone else’s money. That ain’t noble. That’s larceny.
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?
That the cop spin seeks to undermine the charitable purpose, to remove the cloak of good intentions, may well serve some purpose to smear Powell. Cops do that. But it doesn’t bear on whether his conduct was criminal.
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.”
This purported defense, of course, is nonsense. Larceny doesn’t require Powell to keep money for himself. If he causes it to be withheld from its owner, then it’s just as larcenous as if he ransacked the cash register.
Nor is it a defense that Powell’s decision to give away what the owner offers for sale is justified under some amorphous “happy customer” theory. It’s not Powell’s to give. It’s not Powell’s decision to make. There is no “good faith” involved.
Just because Powell, in his twisted vision of Robin Hood, thought he was entitled to use someone else’s food and drink, someone else’s money, to be charitable to whomever he found deserving, doesn’t mean his imperfect view of kindness entitles him to steal with impunity.
It’s reminiscent of those who decide a law is wrong, and deliberately violate it. They then wrap themselves in the mantle of “civil disobedience,” put on their best plastic Henry David Thoreau mask, and claim they shouldn’t be punished. Clearly, they don’t get the concept.
You want to engage in civil disobedience? Knock yourself out. If you feel that strongly about something, then put your ass on the line to prove it. But just because you call it civil disobedience doesn’t mean there are no consequences. Indeed, that’s exactly what civil disobedience is all about, feeling strongly enough about an issue that you are willing to suffer the consequences for your actions. That is the point.
The same is true for Robin Hoodiness. Powell feels that the poor deserve free drinks at IHOP? Great. Buy them free drinks. Pay for it any damn way you please. Persuade your boss that your cause is so good, so worthy, that he should support it by allowing you to serve his drinks, the beverages he purchased, the revenues from which are used to pay Powell’s salary and buy shoes for his children. Charity is a wonderful thing.
But there is nothing charitable about using someone else’s money to help others. Is it a crime? You bet it is, and there is nothing admirable about a guy who wants to pretend he’s Robin Hood on someone else’s dime.
That doesn’t mean, however, that Powell deserves life plus cancer for his crime. He didn’t put his financial interest above that of his employer. This tips allegation smells awful. If people don’t have the money to pay for drinks, they can’t afford to be big tippers either. More importantly, the Kings County DA will never be able to prove it.
So Powell’s crime may be real, but his purpose wasn’t venal. What this appears to be is a great opportunity for a conditional discharge on a reduced misdemeanor charge with restitution. Powell was clearly wrong, and may not grasp what charity means, but that doesn’t make him evil or a threat to others. Make the point without ruining his life with a felony conviction.
William Powell may be no Robin Hood, but he’s no Al Capone either.