Cliff Ennico
"I've got someone who owes my business money. I've made several efforts to negotiate with this person, but it turns out he's 'judgment proof' -- he has no assets in his personal name.

"I know I could just walk away and write this off on my taxes, but I really don't want to do that. To be frank, I want to punish this person. He knew when he signed up for my services that he wasn't going to pay my bills, and in my opinion, that's theft.

"Can I bring a criminal action against this person? If I can't, are there any other nasty things I can do to let the world know this person is a crook that no one should deal with?"

When you run your own business, nothing -- and I mean nothing -- gets under your skin like a customer who takes your goods and services and then refuses to pay for them.

Just about every state has a law making theft of services a criminal offense. The definition of theft of services varies from state to state but usually includes:

--Absconding without paying for hotel, restaurant, gas, or other services for which compensation is paid immediately

--Knowingly securing the performance of a service by deception or threat

--Diverting another's services to the actor's own benefit

--Knowingly writing a bad check

--Holding onto rented property beyond the rental period

For the charge to stick, though, you usually have to prove that the person "intended" not to pay. You may be able to prove intent if the person signed a written contract, you have made proper demand for payment, and the deadbeat did not have sufficient funds in his bank account to pay the bill at the time he signed your contract. It will take time, though, to say nothing of the legal fees you may have to incur if your local prosecutor decides your case isn't worth pursuing at taxpayer's expense.

You should also keep in mind that if you file criminal charges against someone for theft of services and the person has a legitimate defense -- for example, they were not happy with your work or they just lost their job which rendered them unable to pay as they thought they would when signing your contract -- you may be opening yourself up to a criminal charge of malicious prosecution (bringing a criminal case without probable cause).

To make sure your criminal charge won't backfire, talk to someone in your local prosecutor's office or police department.

When dealing with a deadbeat, you need to keep your emotions under control and remember, "Revenge is a dish best served cold". Here are some other ways you can get justice:

Cliff Ennico

Cliff Ennico's "Succeeding in Your Business" column offers straightforward small business advice and tips

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