LIVINGSTON – A Baton Rouge contractor faces 40 criminal counts in Livingston Parish ranging from contractor fraud and insurance fraud to filing false public records and contracting without a license.
And the list may not be complete.
Matthew Morris, 39, owner of Complete Construction Contractors in Baton Rouge, faces flood-related charges in Livingston, Ascension and East Baton Rouge parishes.
He also is under investigation in St. John the Baptist Parish.
The local charges come from the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office, Denham Springs Police Department and Walker Police Department.
As of Monday, Morris was in the Livingston Parish Detention Center.
Morris was first booked into the Detention Center on Wednesday, Feb. 22, on 37 counts involving post-flood contractor fraud.
The total bail on 36 of those counts was $653,000, according to Detention Center booking records, but no bail was allowed on a charge of being a fugitive
By Friday, Feb. 24, the list of charges had grown to 40 and the bail to $780,000.
Sheriff’s Office public information officer Lori Steel said their investigators have charged Morris with eight counts residential contractor fraud, eight counts insurance fraud, eight counts engaging in business of contracting without license, five counts filing false public records, three counts contractor misappropriation of funds and one count theft of assets of aged person.
“Our investigation continues,” Steel said. “More charges are possible.”
The Denham Springs Police Department’s charges from one investigation include residential contractor fraud, contractor misapplication of funds, filing false public records and engaging in business of contracting without a license.
Police Chief Shannon Womack said another case is under investigation and criminal charges may result from it.
The Walker Police Department’s warrant for Morris includes residential contractor fraud, contractor misapplication of insurance payments, insurance fraud and extortion, according to Capt. John Sharp, Walker public information officer.
Walker police tried to get Morris to surrender last week, Sharp said.
“The detectives had a conversation with his attorney. We were trying to give him a chance to turn himself in,” he said.
Before Morris could surrender, he was arrested Tuesday, Feb. 21, at his home in Baton Rouge by State Police on an East Baton Rouge Parish warrant.
Morris was first arrested Feb. 10 in Ascension Parish on counts of defrauding more than a dozen flood victims. He posted $635,000 bail and was released.
The Denham Springs chief, Womack, said the state Attorney General’s Office has a bureau that handles business fraud, but it was overwhelmed after flooding. It asked local law enforcement for help.
The Denham Springs case involved a homeowner who contracted Morris to do demolition work, mold remediation and drying procedures, he said.
The homeowner paid Morris $1,250 of her own money and $20,000 from her insurance company. Morris later told her additional work was needed at a cost of $27,225.
In reviewing her billing, the homeowner found several discrepancies, including being billed twice for a plumber and twice for an electrician who no one saw.
When the homeowner terminated his contract, Morris filed a lien for $29,088.96, Womack said.
Meanwhile, a subcontractor, Gulf Coast Catastrophe Consultants, also filed a lien against the homeowner for $1,972.54, charging Morris had never paid it.
After an investigation, Womack said, his department filed four charges against Morris.
“We are extremely pleased that Mr. Morris is in custody,” Walker Police Chief David Addison said.
“We promised the public that we would do everything possible to bring to justice anyone who used the flood as an opportunity to take advantage of our residents and we intend to honor that promise,” he said.
“Our officers are continuing to work on other contractor fraud cases and we are looking forward to more arrests in the near future.”
A Walker homeowner signed a contract with Morris on Aug. 18 for about $70,000 but received a bill for $244,530. The homeowner’s insurance company paid $55,000 before the homeowner stopped the job.
The extortion count stems from allegations Morris told the homeowner he would file a lien against the home if the homeowner did not renegotiate and agree to a premium upgrade, Sharp said.
“The homeowner was required to pay his $1,255 insurance deductible directly to Mr. Morris,” Sharp said. “The contract also provided Mr. Morris with authority to deal directly with the insurance carrier and send work invoice directly to the insurance carrier.”
According to Walker police, the contract originally called for Morris to be paid $70,000 to repair the home, but after the home was gutted, Morris allegedly told the homeowner he had to agree to change the contract to permit upgrades.
“Following the initial work, Mr. Morris coerced the homeowner into amending the contract to include certain ‘premium upgrades’ to the home, telling the homeowner that a construction lien would be filed against the home if the premium upgrades were not authorized,” Sharp said.
“Through threats and intimidation, Mr. Morris was able to increase the contract price from $69,915.38 to $244,532.39,” he said.
After the contract price was changed to include the “premium upgrades,” Morris stopped work on the home, Sharp said. The homeowner could not contact Morris.
“It wasn’t until a news story aired about Morris’ arrest in Ascension Parish for contractor fraud that the homeowner realized he had been defrauded,” Chief Addison said.
The homeowner contacted his insurance company and found that Morris had been billing the company work that had not been done, Addison said. The homeowner instructed the insurance carrier to cease paying Morris and contacted Walker police.
Ascension Parish deputies had received 13 criminal complaints against Morris, stemming from the August flood, six from homeowners who are 60 or older.
The Baton Rouge arrest of Morris stemmed from a police warrant in a case related to work begun in April 2014. It accuses Morris of counts of home improvement fraud, felony theft, theft of assets of an aged person and exploitation of the infirm.