The owner of a Hellam Township fireplace business is accused by state police of taking more than $4,000 from a customer, then failing to do the agreed-upon work.
But Samuel Weston's attorney said his client isn't guilty of committing a crime.
Weston, 61, of 490 Green Way in York Township, is free on unsecured bail, charged with theft by unlawful taking and theft by deception, both second-degree felonies, court documents state.
He owns the now-closed Fireplace City, 5830 Lincoln Highway East in Hellam Township, according to attorney Glenn Smith.
Smith maintains the theft charges are unwarranted because the debt is a civil matter, not a crime.
"Sam was struggling with his business, trying to make it work," Smith said.
The allegations: According to charging documents, Weston took $4,600 from Gregory Deaver to install a fireplace at Deaver's Chanceford Township home.
That was May 1, documents said.
"(Weston) filed bankruptcy on June 26," the attorney said.
Also on June 26, Weston told state police he was filing for bankruptcy and referred them to Smith, documents state.
State police filed the charges June 27.
"This is not a situation where he took the deposit and closed up shop," Smith said. "For a month and a half, this guy was trying to make the business work. ... My recollection was that the bankruptcy was finally filed to stave off foreclosure."
Smith said the customers of Fireplace City who gave Weston money but didn't have agreed-upon work done are listed as creditors in Weston's Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing.
How it works: In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing, creditors will get some money back over a period of time, perhaps as many as five years, and the creditors might not receive 100 percent of what they are owed, the attorney said.
"There were approximately 30 customers who fell into this category," Smith said.
Weston's son, who owns a separate fireplace business, did the work for about half of those customers, according to the attorney.
"Sam Weston's son stepped up, honored the deposit (customers) had given and did the jobs," Smith said. "The son couldn't do all the jobs because that would have bankrupted him, too."
Notified: All customers owed money by Weston received notices through bankruptcy court, according to Smith, who argued that for Weston to be guilty of theft by deception, he would have had to have the intent to defraud them.
"How many businesses fail every day?" Smith asked, adding that if business owners were charged every time they owed money, "everyone would be getting charged."
Smith said he and Weston will fight the allegations.
Intent the key issue: Chief deputy prosecutor Tim Barker said he could not speak about Weston's case specifically, but was willing to speak in generalities.
He said simply filing bankruptcy does not shield someone from criminal charges. To prove such theft charges, prosecutors must prove a defendant had an intent to defraud his customers, Barker said.
"It all comes down to intent," he said.