When you give a woman a gift, no strings attached, can you really call it fraud when she decides not to marry you?
Arturo Eguia-Welch thinks so.
Eguia-Welch, of St. Paul, met Journi Bentley at Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill in Oklahoma City in 2006. She was waiting tables. He was grabbing a bite with some local motorcyclists. He noticed her, and left his number.
A friendship bloomed. Over the next five years, Eguia-Welch and Bentley kept in touch, sending emails back and forth, and chatting on Facebook. They got together too, going on trips to Las Vegas and Cancun.
It was all on his dime. She protested the cost, saying in one Facebook message, “I don’t think you realize the quirk that I have about money being spent on me.”
He insisted, responding, “No. I’ve realized it. I don’t expect anything in return or anything. Remember, I’m pretty well off. It’s like pennies to me.”
Eguia-Welch and Bentley dated for about a year. At the time, both were married to other people, and apparently unhappy. According to court documents, Bentley told Equia-Welch that she was planning to divorce her husband – which she eventually did in 2015. Equia-Welch allegedly failed to mention his own wife and a child.
It turned out that while Bentley was looking for a way out of her marriage, she didn’t want an encore with Eguia-Welch either. She wanted to break up. He sued for fraud, accusing her of “false representation.” He’d spent upwards of $30,000 on Bentley for airfare, hotels, furniture, and other gifts, Eguia-Welch complained, based on the impression she’d left that they might sail off into the sunset together.
That put Bentley in the peculiar position of having to lay out, in torturous detail, the seemingly obvious qualities of a legally valid "gift" in Oklahoma. A mentally competent person with free will makes a donation, and another mentally competent person receives it, her response to the court reads.
Her attorneys have used Eguia-Welch’s own words and text messages repeatedly to argue that the gifts were indeed gifts, according to court documents. He’d said at various times, “I don’t expect a dime from you … at all,” and “I don’t know why you keep bringing up money. I’d never expect you to pay for anything, especially if I’m inviting you.”
Bentley also denied ever receiving any furniture from Equia-Welch, which comprised about one-third of the damages he claimed to have suffered.
The district court seemed to agree that regret wasn’t a legal mechanism for take-backs, dismissing the suit in 2016 and awarding Bentley more than $12,000 in attorney fees. Equia-Welch appealed, and that suit just met the same fate last month. Bentley also has an ongoing order for protection against him.