A handful of elderly neighbors in a Baker subdivision shelled out nearly $500,000 to a fast-talking contractor for extensive renovations of their homes, but according to city Police Chief Mike Knaps, the contractor pocketed the cash while performing shoddy work.
Tanweer Bhatti, the owner of Baton Rouge-based Southern Siding Co. Inc., was arrested Monday on two counts each of residential contract fraud and theft of assets of aged persons.
He is accused of defrauding two residents of the Parkwood Terrace Subdivision in south Baker beginning in June 2014.
Knaps said a third warrant for Bhatti, 63, is forthcoming for defrauding another Parkwood Terrace resident and that Bhatti also is wanted in St. John the Baptist Parish on similar counts.
The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office also is investigating Bhatti for possible mortgage fraud, Knaps said, after the contractor allegedly used his victims’ credit information to take out loans against their homes.
After a news conference Monday, Baker officers walked Bhatti from inside the Police Department past several of his alleged victims and reporters to a waiting car.
As he walked by, he said he did nothing wrong.
“He was a good talker,” 81-year-old Margerie Nichols, a 42-year Parkwood Terrace resident and one of Bhatti’s customers, said after Bhatti left.
“We don’t want anyone to go through what we went through,” said Linda Perkins, another Baker customer of Bhatti.
Lt. Greg Brown, a Baker detective, said Bhatti was “talkative” and “pushy,” pressuring the elderly victims to sign off on contracts for extensive work to their homes.
After receiving payment upfront, Brown said, the contractor performed inadequate work and failed to complete or even start much of the promised work.
Brown pointed out numerous issues with remodeling work at Jacqueline Hunt’s home on Hico Drive, including crooked tiles, large gaps around the door frames, warped siding, a tilting bathtub, missing door handles, and sloppy and splattered paint throughout the home.
A bathroom and kitchen in Hunt’s home still have aging cabinets and appliances despite stipulations in the $99,700 contract to fully remodel both rooms, Brown said. According to a warrant, Bhatti also attempted to charge Hunt another $44,000 to finish the kitchen.
Bhatti also took out a $30,000 loan on Hunt’s home, Brown said, bringing the total cost of a remodeling job for the 68-year-old retired schoolteacher to $129,700.
Estimates by other contractors peg the cost of cleaning up and fixing Bhatti’s work at Hunt’s house at more than $81,000, according to a warrant.
The victims of the alleged fraud declined to speak in detail about their experiences, citing potential civil suits against Bhatti to recover the money they paid him for the work.
Knaps called Bhatti “a snake in the grass” and said he hoped the judge in the criminal case would also consider ordering him to pay reparations if convicted.
The Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors found in July that Bhatti had violated state law by performing contracting work over $75,000 without the required licenses.
According to the warrant, his residential building contractor’s license had expired in 2013.
Bhatti was booked into Parish Prison, where he remained Monday evening.
Bail for Bhatti had not yet been set.