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When faking your own death to get out of catering a wedding is not fraud

Madrid court finds two entrepreneurs not guilty after they lied to a couple about their supposed demise and kept the fiancés’ money

The couple were facing empty plates on their wedding day.
The couple were facing empty plates on their wedding day.

Just hours before a wedding was due to take place, Jesús C., the businessman in charge of catering the event, sent a mail to the bride purporting to be someone else, and claiming that both he and his son had died. The message explained that the company would not be able to serve the food – which was already 75% paid for.

The lie has been described as such by the Spanish justice system, yet the perpetrators will not be punished as the courts found that the ruse cannot be considered fraud. The man in question already had a criminal record for misappropriation of funds, and six other couples say he pulled the same trick on them.

At least six couples had created a Facebook page on which they claimed they had been ripped off by the firm

The public prosecutor was calling for a prison sentence of one year and three months. But despite the fact that the money was never returned to the bride and groom, the Madrid High Court found the defendants not guilty of fraud. The sentence can be appealed.

The victims, Adriana S. and Leonardo M., hired the services of Catering Módena in June 2015. Via a verbal contract, they agreed on a price of €1,980, including sales tax. As discussed, the couple paid €1,500 in advance, transferring the funds into a bank account.

The night before the wedding, Yerai C., the son of the owner of the catering service, took a marquee to the venue. But just hours later the bride awoke to an email from the company stating that no one would be able to serve the wedding banquet because the boss of the catering firm and his son had just died in a terrible workplace accident. The mail, which had been written by the very man who was claiming to be dead, promised to return the couple’s money.

The wedding finally took place, three hours later than planned

On the day of the ceremony, the couple were unable to contact anyone from the company, but the next day someone answered one of Leonardo’s calls: a man claiming to be the brother of Jesús C., and who stated that at that very moment the father and son were being laid to rest.

After months without news from the company and no refund, Adriana and Leonardo discovered that Catering Módena had been involved in other, similar episodes. At least six couples had created a Facebook page on which they claimed they had been ripped off by the firm.

But the judges that heard the case did not find sufficient evidence of fraud, given that the deception would have been proven if the “perpetrator feigned a serious intent to agree a contract when, in reality, he was merely trying to take advantage of [the money offered by the couple], using the trust and the good faith of the victim with clear and categorical intention to renege on what had been agreed.”

Fraud, the ruling states, did not happen because the “accused carried out actions that involved an economic cost to themselves, which reveals a partial fulfillment of the agreed service,” in reference to the marquee that they delivered. This, the judges concluded, is “incompatible with the aim of not complying [with the agreement].”

And while the ruling states that it is “unquestionable” that the catering service was not provided, there was insufficient evidence that the intention at the time the verbal contract was made was to not comply with the agreement.

The ruling makes no mention of the reasons for the no-show, nor of the untruth or faked death. It does, however, mention the statement of the owner of the company, who decided not to serve the wedding banquet because he was owed “supplements” – i.e. for the marquee – and that he didn’t “get a very good impression” of the couple. The bride denied that the couple had requested any extras.

In the end, the wedding did go ahead – albeit three hours later than planned, and after a record feat of reorganization that took eight hours. It was, unquestionably, a day that the couple will never forget.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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