Former Richland businessman told to pay back customers

A former Richland business owner who failed to return down payments to customers, wrote bad checks and continued to work after his license was revoked has four months to pay $12,500 in restitution or face up to a year in jail.

Daniel Clarence Medlock, 38, pleaded guilty in Benton County Superior Court to first-degree theft and three counts of operating a business post-revocation.

The amended charges were the result of plea negotiations between defense lawyer Sam Swanberg, Benton County Deputy Prosecutor Megan Whitmire and state Assistant Attorney General Scott Marlow.

The prosecutors pursued three cases against Medlock. Marlow brought some of the charges at the request of the state Department of Revenue.

Medlock -- who was self-employed and doing business as Cutting Edge Hardwood Floors -- also had faced a second-degree theft charge and two counts of unlawful issuance of bank checks.

The plea deal was reached to get a "significant payment of restitution to the victims up front" before Medlock returns to court March 9 for sentencing, according to court documents.

He owes $12,529, which consists of "a deposit he took from a customer for work not performed, unlawfully issued bank checks and collected retail sales tax," said Mike Gowrylow, a Department of Revenue spokesman.

"Essentially we're looking for full restitution, and short of that we'll seek jail time because, really, businesses that don't play by the rules and try to undercut honest businesses shouldn't get away with it," Gowrylow said.

Medlock faces between four months to a year in jail.

The plea agreement states that if he pays all of the owed money by March prosecutors will recommend a four-month term, to be served on work release.

If not paid in full, the agreement recommends a sentencing structure based on how much money comes in, with a yearlong term suggested if he fails "to make sufficient payments toward the financial obligation," which would be less than $7,000.

Medlock also must not have any criminal violations before then, or prosecutors will ask to have his sentencing date moved up.

Medlock first was charged in March with theft for pocketing a $5,600 down payment for hardwood floors that never were installed. He then reportedly ended all contact with the customers.

The failed work order came to the attention of the state Department of Labor and Industries after the victims reported Medlock to the Better Business Bureau in September 2009. The department reportedly stepped in to investigate and found Medlock had been a "suspended contractor" since Feb. 9, 2009.

Medlock was not registered when he presented the bid or accepted the down payment for the couple's floor job, court documents said. Neither the victims nor the Department of Labor and Industries could reach Medlock about the issue.

In an interview with the Herald in March, Medlock claimed the allegations were false, and he would clear his name.

Medlock said then those customers had canceled the job after two installation delays and claimed that a refund check for the couple -- minus a $200 restocking fee for the wood -- had been waiting for them at his shop for two months.

He also acknowledged that his license had been suspended previously after he ignored a $1,000 fine but said that once he settled up with L&I he didn't know he needed to re-register.

Medlock's certificate of registration to do business was revoked in September 2009 following telephone calls, bank levies and office visits by Department of Revenue agents.

Medlock reportedly appealed the order, but on Oct. 27, 2009, an administrative law judge finalized it. An order was then posted at the Cutting Edge Hardwood Floors office and agents met with Medlock to inform him he had to stop operating the business or face criminal action.

However, Medlock continued to offer contract bids to customers and completed installation projects, documents said. Between September 2009 and April 2010, he collected more than $1,600 in retail sales tax but failed to report or remit that amount to the Department of Revenue, documents said.

Superior Court Judge Bruce Spanner was set to take the plea this week when he noted Medlock had installed the floor in his own home. Spanner said he wasn't sure about the time frame in relation to Medlock's business license, saying he'd left it to others to verify.

Medlock told the judge he wasn't sure about his particular job but said he thought he was licensed and bonded at the time. Swanberg added that the defense didn't have a problem entering a plea before Spanner.

However, Spanner decided to recuse himself from the case because of the possibility he could become a witness. Judge Cameron Mitchell was then brought in for the plea.