The court opinion ends a long legal dispute over the money given to Juan Catala by David S. Vogel, a Providence attorney who ran for Congress last fall as an independent. But despite the ruling from the high court, Catala said he'll never repay his former friend.
"I'll go to jail before I give him a dollar," Catala told The Associated Press.
According to court documents, Catala and his fiancée were on a trip to Las Vegas in 2007 when Catala called Vogel for help. According to Vogel, Catala said he had lost a substantial sum of money gambling and needed to recover his losses. Vogel agreed to wire $8,500 to the Bellagio Hotel.
After Catala refused to repay the loan, Vogel sued. Catala initially disputed that he had received the money but later argued that the loan was void because of a more than century-old Rhode Island law that invalidates loan agreements when the lender knows the money would be used for gambling. On Friday, Catala said Vogel gave him the money as an investment, with the understanding that he would be paid back only if Catala won.
A Superior Court judge determined that the prohibition on gambling loans didn't apply and ordered Catala to repay the $8,500 plus $8,500 in interest and damages. Catala appealed to the state Supreme Court, but because his attorney did not forward a copy of the lower court transcript, the high court concluded it had "no choice but to uphold the lower court's findings."
"It is said that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas—except in this case, where the parties dispute what happened there," wrote Justice Gilbert V. Indeglia in the ruling's first sentence.
In a dissent, Justice William P. Robinson III said Catala had no legal obligation to repay Vogel because of the law invalidating gambling loans. He said the lower court transcript wasn't necessary because Vogel acknowledged he knew Catala planned to use at least some of the money for gambling.
Even though he won, Vogel said he was disappointed that the high court didn't weigh in on the law banning gambling loans, which was enacted at a time when gambling was illegal. He said the law is outdated and should be rescinded because it could give gamblers an easy way to avoid repaying loans.
"Maybe it's time for the legislature to just remove it from the books," he said.
Catala and Vogel met at a poker table at the Foxwoods Resort Casino several years ago, Vogel said. He said they were friends up until the loan but haven't spoken recently.
Catala was arrested in 2009 in Massachusetts and charged with kidnapping and assault. The charges are pending. He also faces felony larceny charges in Rhode Island that stem from a state mortgage fraud investigation in 2011. Catala has pleaded not guilty to the charges and said Friday that they're unrelated to the loan dispute.
Vogel said he isn't optimistic that he'll ever collect the money. He hasn't loaned any large sums of money since and doesn't plan to.
"I learned my lesson the hard way," he said.