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Criminal charges

defrauding an innkeeper

Most states have a specific statute (often called defrauding an innkeeper) that makes it a criminal offense to obtain food, lodging, fuel, or other accommodations at a restaurant, hotel, ski resort, campground, marina, gas station, or other establishment, with the intent not to pay for such goods and services—or to secure credit at such an establishment through fraud or other means of deceit (false pretenses). Proof that a person refused or neglected to pay for such food, lodging, fuel, or accommodations, or gave payment that was not honored (declined credit card, bad check) is generally proof of such fraudulent intent not to pay for the goods or services.

The definitions and punishment for this criminal offense vary from state to state, but generally may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or as a felony, and may include confinement in jail or state prison. In some states, if the amount owed was disputed and the amount offered in payment was refused, a person cannot be convicted under the statute.

In Texas, the offense of defrauding an innkeeper is covered under the Texas Penal Code, specifically under the offense of Theft of Service (Section 31.04). This statute makes it illegal to intentionally or knowingly secure performance of a service by deception, threat, or false token. This includes obtaining services such as food, lodging, or other accommodations at an establishment without paying and with the intent to avoid payment. The level of the offense and the associated penalties depend on the value of the service stolen. It can range from a Class C misdemeanor for services valued at less than $100, to a felony of the first degree for services valued at $300,000 or more. If a person disputes the amount owed and offers to pay what they believe is the correct amount, this may be a defense against the charge, depending on the circumstances. An attorney can provide specific guidance on how the law might apply to a particular situation.


Texas Statutes & Rules

Federal Statutes & Rules

18 U.S. Code § 1343 - Fraud by wire, radio, or television
This federal statute is relevant as it addresses the use of interstate communications to commit fraudulent activities, which can include defrauding an innkeeper if such communications are used as part of the scheme.

The statute makes it a federal crime to use interstate wire, radio, or television communications to carry out any scheme to defraud, or to obtain money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises. Conviction under this statute can result in fines and/or imprisonment for up to 20 years. If the violation affects a financial institution or is connected to a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency, penalties can increase to up to 30 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $1,000,000.

18 U.S. Code § 1029 - Fraud and related activity in connection with access devices
This statute is relevant to the topic as it criminalizes the fraudulent use of access devices, such as credit cards, which could be used to defraud an innkeeper.

This statute prohibits the production, use, or trafficking of counterfeit or unauthorized access devices, including credit cards, with the intent to defraud. It also covers the possession of device-making equipment with the intent to defraud. Penalties for violations of this statute include fines and imprisonment for up to 10 or 15 years, depending on the specific offense and the value of the goods or services obtained. Aggravated offenses involving larger schemes or affecting more victims can result in higher penalties.

18 U.S. Code § 1341 - Frauds and swindles by Mail
This statute may be relevant if the act of defrauding an innkeeper involves the use of the postal service or mail to carry out the fraudulent scheme.

This statute makes it a federal crime to use the mail service to carry out a scheme to defraud or to obtain money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises. The penalties for mail fraud include fines and/or imprisonment for up to 20 years. If the fraud affects a financial institution or is connected to a federally declared disaster or emergency, the penalties can increase to up to 30 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $1,000,000.

18 U.S. Code § 13 - Laws of states adopted for areas within federal jurisdiction
This statute allows for state laws to be applied to offenses committed on federal property, which could include defrauding an innkeeper if the establishment is located on federal land.

Also known as the Assimilative Crimes Act, this statute provides that any act or omission that is not made punishable by an enactment of Congress but would be punishable if committed or omitted within the jurisdiction of the state in which the federal enclave is situated, shall be punishable as a federal crime. The punishment mirrors that of the state law. This means that if defrauding an innkeeper is a crime under state law, and the offense occurs on federal property, the offender can be prosecuted under federal law with the same penalties as the state law provides.