DENHAM SPRINGS – Residential contractor fraud.
Three words that represent a felony crime in Louisiana, but three words that also spark strong emotions in Livingston Parish.
When Brad Hassert, compliance director for the state Licensing Board for Contractors, addressed a weekly seminar focusing on flooding issues on April 27 in Denham Springs, he had a standing room only crowd.
What is residential contractor fraud, how does it come about and how long it takes to investigate it are key points in almost any discussion.
The Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office provided the Livingston Parish News with the affidavits from 23 investigations that resulted in arrests over a period of almost six months.
The cases range from October 2016 to March 2017.
What can be gleamed from the affidavits:
A total of 15 persons were arrested in the 23 investigations.
Seven of them – almost half -- did not have contractor licenses.
The suspects were not strangers to Livingston Parish; only one was from out of state. Five were from Livingston Parish and four from the greater Baton Rouge area.
Of the 23 cases, eight involve Matthew Morris, of Baton Rouge, who faces more than 100 criminal counts in Livingston, Ascension and East Baton Rouge parishes.
The only other multiple-case suspect in that time period was Shane Badeaux, of Denham Springs, in two cases.
The information offered in the affidavits follow what becomes a familiar theme.
A sheriff’s deputy is dispatched to a home, where the parish resident reports problems with a contractor doing repairs from damage caused by the Great Flood of 2016.
The homeowner reports paying the contractor anywhere from $2,000 to $63,000.
The contractor comes back and asks for more money even though he has not completed the work. Or the contractor begins work, then stops showing up.
The homeowner reports trying to contact the contractor and either can’t or the contractor does not return phone calls.
The resulting investigation determines the complaint falls under the residential contractor fraud statute. An affidavit is submitted to a 21th Judicial District Court judge asking for an arrest warrant.
A judge signs the affidavit and an arrest warrant is issued.
But residential contractor fraud was not the only charge filed in the investigations.
Among the other charges: contractor misapplication of payments, insurance fraud, engaging in business contracting without authorization, filing or maintaining false records and home improvement fraud.
Two faced theft charges when homeowners complain a ladder and 16-inch chain saw were stolen.
Of the 15 suspects involved, arrest documents show six turned themselves in at the Sheriff’s Office when they found out about the warrant.
Two were transferred from other parish jails where they were being held -- Dennis Kramer, of Prairieville, was in the Ascension Parish Jail and Rodrigo E. Gutierrez, of New Orleans, was in the Jefferson Parish Jail.
There was no information on why the two men were in jail or any charge against them.
Arrest documents also show when deputies went to the home of Andrew Darian, of Denham Springs, on March 8 to take him into custody, they had use a stun gun. He was treated at a hospital then booked into the Detention Center, records said.
A crucial point in the investigations was that 45 days had to have elapsed where the contractor did not show up, a requirement under the contractor fraud statute.
Of the 23 cases, only one, involving Jerry Brewer of French Settlement, took $3,250 as a down payment from a Denham Springs couple and failed to do any work.
The problems with unscrupulous contractors did not end after arrests made in the six-month time provided by the Sheriff’s Office.
On May 8, Sheriff Jason Ard posted a note on his office’s Facebook page about the problem.
“In this post, you'll see folks arrested mostly from cases developed during the month of April,” Ard said, with booking photos attached.
“In these specific cases, victims are out over $235,000. This is in addition to those arrests made prior to April and posted on this page April 7,” he said.
“In those cases, victims lost approximately $600,000. And, if you scroll back to our April 7th post, you'll notice some of the same names & faces have popped up again,” Ard said.
“I don't expect this to be the end of it. Investigations continue. More charges are possible. More arrests are possible.”
In April, Detention Center booking records showed eight people charged with residential contractor fraud.
The 23 cases reviewed are working their way through the court system.
The following cases were investigated by the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office between October 2016 and March 2017 and results in the charges listed. They are the basis for the cumulative numbers used in this story.
The dates are when the affidavit for an arrest was signed by a 21st Judicial District judge.
Dennis Kramer, 49, 18619 Ducross Road, Prairieville, home improvement fraud.
Kaine Joseph Harman, 33, 36118 Reinninger Road, Denham Springs, residential contractor fraud.
Matthew J. Morris, 39, 21313 Turkey Creek, Baton Rouge, 7 counts residential contractor fraud, 8 counts prohibited act – insurance fraud, 7 counts engaging in business contracting without authorization, 3 counts contractor misapplication of payments, 3 counts filing or maintaining false public records, home improvement fraud, filing false records, theft of assets of elderly.
James Olan Scott Jr., 35, 29224 S. Satsuma, Livingston, home improvement fraud.
Rodrigo Exequiel Gutierrez, 43, 2421 Eagle St., New Orleans, residential contractor fraud, business of contracting without authorization.
Ross Horton, 36, 732 Ontario St., Shreveport, residential contractor fraud.
Shane Badeaux, 42, 38755 Alderly Lane, Denham Springs, residential contractor fraud, home improvement fraud.
Jerry L. Brewer, 30, 19684 La Trace Road, French Settlement, residential contractor fraud.
Demery D. Smith, 39, 832 Sweet Bay Drive. Mandeville, residential contractor fraud, contractor misapplication of payments, felony theft.
Andrew Darian, 48, 8840 Beauvior Ave., Denham Springs, residential contractor fraud.
Raymond C. Martinez, 59, 17128 Ashton Ave., Greenwell Springs, residential contractor fraud, theft (misdemeanor).
Bradley Smith, 40, 5925 West End Blvd., New Orleans, residential contractor fraud, misapplication of payments.
Michael Martin Simmes, 46, 15473 Ryan Ave., Prairieville, residential contractor fraud.
Rodger W. Granger Jr., 32, 20551 Joan Barlett, Kentwood, residential contractor fraud,
Robert Braswell, 54, 28 Buckhurst Plantation, Natchez, Miss., residential contractor fraud.
Kevin Fambrough is a reporter at the Livingston Parish News. He can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @fambroughkevin.