If a business excepts money a down payment but was unable to provide service and unable to process a refund, is that a criminal offense?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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If a business excepts money a down payment but was unable to provide service and unable to process a refund, is that a criminal offense?

I accepted a $2000 down payment for dirt work services. Due to numerous issues that occurred thereafter I was unable to start work. The customer asked for a refund of their money. Due to the state my business finance was in I could not process the refund. The customer has a sheriff officer call me and state that they where going to proceed with a criminal warrant for my arrest. I was given 2 business days to get the $2000. I have explained to the customer I have $1200 available now, and would make 2 payments in 2 weeks covering the remaining balance? I never in my wildest dreams thought this would be a criminal offense, especially a warrant. As of now there is no warrant.

Asked on February 7, 2019 under Criminal Law, Florida


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

It's only a criminal offense if there is evidence or reason to think that you committed fraud or theft (stealing) by deception (trickery): that is, that you basically knew in advance that you could not or would not do the work, and do tricked them into giving you their money. If you entered into the agreement and took the money in good faith, then a later problem or reversal that prevented you from doing the work would be a civil matter (something you could be sued over) only, not criminal.
The problem for you is that since you evidently spent or used the deposit and didn't have funds to make it good, that suggests your business was not viable or solvent and so that this fraud--getting them to give you money you had not intention of doing. This fact--not having the deposit--is something that could be used to conclude you committed a criminal act. 

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