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socrateaser, Lawyer
Category: Legal
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Experience:  Retired (mostly)
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I had a contract to purchase the contents of a cafe. The seller

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I had a contract to purchase the contents of a cafe. The seller removed $10,000 worth of furniture a week after I took possession of the cafe. I went to police to press charges and was told that this was a contract issue. The seller turned out not owning about half of the contents that she sold to me as the landlord claims some items are attached to the building. Again I was told by the police this was a contract issue. I thought these were criminal offenses such as grand larceny and fraud and should be prosecuted thusly. How should I get justice in this case?

The truth is that any time law enforcement can find a way to avoid having to prosecute something other than a violent crime or a property crime affecting a large class of persons (such as a ponzi scheme, or other massive fraud), they tell you it's a "civil matter" and refuse to get involved.

The truth is that it probably is a criminal law issue -- but, the district attorney has the option to "nolle prosequi" (not prosecute) a crime that he/she doesn't believe is in the interest of the taxpayers. And, since the DA has a budget, he/she must hold funds to deal with the murders and hijackings, etc., that takes place in the county. Which makes claims like yours suddenly transform into civil actions, at which point, your only recourse is to sue the other person for the fraud.

If the seller mispresented that he/she owned substantially everything in the premises, and it turned out that this representation was false, then that is a civil fraud, and you are entitled to damages in the amount of the difference between what you thought you were purchase and what you actually received. And, it doesn't matter whether or not you had a contract. The misrepresentation is what matters (though, you must also show that you were enetitled to rely on the misrepresentation, because for example, there was no reason to suspect that someone else owned any of the property represented as being for sale).

I don't know how much money is at stake here, but you could sue in small claims court without a lawyer for up to $5,000. And, even if that doesn't cover your entire damages, it may be more cost effective than to hire a lawyer, who will probably charge you twice that much to pursue the seller in regular civil court.

Here is a link to an overview of Virginia Small Claims. If you decide you want to go for the throat and hire a lawyer, then for a competent referral, see this link.

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.
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