Update: 3:25 p.m.: A state district judge set bail Thursday for a Baton Rouge man arrested in multiple cases of contractor fraud in Ascension Parish at $635,000, sheriff's deputies said.
Matthew Morris, 39, 21313 Turkey Creek Drive, Baton Rouge, remained Thursday afternoon in Ascension Parish Prison near Donaldsonville, Chief Deputy Bobby Webre said.
Sheriff's deputies booked Morris on Wednesday with 12 counts each of residential contractor fraud and of prohibited activities and sanctions, 11 counts of engaging in the business of contracting without authority, nine counts of misapplication of payments, six counts of theft of assets of aged persons and filing or maintaining false public records, deputies said.
GONZALES — Authorities arrested the owner of a Baton Rouge company, Complete Construction Contractors, Wednesday morning on allegations he defrauded more than a dozen Ascension Parish homeowners who flooded in August, the sheriff said.
Sheriff Jeff Wiley said Matthew Morris, 39, the owner of the company, used a complicated contract to rack up thousands of dollars in claims assistance fees, grossly over-billed or billed people for work that had not been done, and collected residents’ insurance payments with inflated or fraudulent bills.
Ascension Parish sheriff's deputies said they had received 13 criminal complaints against Morris since December over allegations of contractor fraud on home restoration jobs stemming from the August flood. Six of those complaints were filed by homeowners who are 60 or older, deputies said. The company is often known by the abbreviation CCC.
Wiley said he believes the case could extend into other nearby parishes and noted law enforcement authorities in Livingston Parish are already expressing interest in looking into the case. He added that he believes some victims may still be out there — thinking they only had a civil remedy — and may not have thought to file a criminal complaint.
“I look forward to his day in court when he will be held accountable,” Wiley said. “I don’t think we have heard the last of this case. I think there’s a trail of misery and trail of victims that is yet to be identified.”
Separately, the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors is actively investigating several complaints the board has received about Complete Construction since the flood, the board’s compliance director said Wednesday.
Brad Hassert, the director, said the board, which isn’t authorized to look at contract disputes, is focused at this time only on claims related to mold remediation work performed by the company.
Ascension Parish sheriff’s deputies said investigators have learned that, though Morris was billing people for mold remediation, he didn’t have a valid mold remediation license at the time.
Contractor board online records do show Complete Construction is currently licensed to do commercial, residential and mold remediation work, but Complete Construction did not get its first mold remediation license until Nov. 4, months after the August flood.
In 2015, the board found Complete Construction guilty of hiring unlicensed contractors for a large commercial job and was fined $1,000, the maximum allowed under the law, Hassert said. Morris has paid the fine.
Morris’ business office and his home in Baton Rouge's Mallard Lakes subdivision off Hoo Shoo Too Road — where Complete Construction also has a 6,300-square-foot spec home for sale — were searched Wednesday morning shortly before he was arrested at his office. The parish Sheriff’s Office, the Louisiana State Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Secret Service Task Force jointly investigated the fraud allegations, deputies said in a news release.
A woman answering the phone at Complete Construction's office on Perkins Road Wednesday afternoon said Morris was not available and offered "no comment" on the allegations against the company's owner.
The homeowners told Ascension deputies that they signed contracts with Complete Construction Contractors that covered demolition, drying, mold remediation and reconstruction but never received cost estimates despite repeated requests.
Wiley said the fine print in Complete Construction’s contracts purported to allow Morris to make change orders while he was dealing directly with residents’ insurers and raising costs without homeowners’ realizing it until it was too late.
Residents began to receive inflated invoices that totaled two-thirds of their insurance payouts after demolition was finished, leaving a funding shortage to finish their jobs, deputies said.
When homeowners terminated the agreements, it was then that Morris mailed them bills for the claims assistance fees and 50 percent of the cost of the overall job, deputies said. Morris also placed liens on some homeowners’ properties that prevented them from continuing to receive their insurance payments.
Morris, 21313 Turkey Creek Drive, Baton Rouge, was booked Wednesday with 12 counts each of residential contractor fraud and of prohibited activities and sanctions, 11 counts of engaging in the business of contracting without authority, nine counts of misapplication of payments, six counts of theft of assets of aged persons and filing or maintaining false public records, deputies said.
Morris remained in Ascension Parish Prison near Donaldsonville late Wednesday awaiting the setting of bail, deputies said.