BAKER, LA (WAFB) - A Baton Rouge construction owner accused of stealing thousands from Baker residents faces fraud charges.
The Baker Police Department arrested Tanweer Bhatti, the owner of Southern Siding, on charges of residential contractor fraud and theft of assets of aged persons.
Police received complaints about Bhatti from several elderly residents in the Parkwood Terence Subdivision. They reported their residences were in "extremely poor conditions" after work done by Bhatti's company. The victims were all over the age of 60 and retired.
"Most of them are widowed, retired professionals and they're just trying to live the second half of their life," said Lt. Greg Brown of the Baker Police Department.
Detectives found more victims during a public compliance hearing with the Louisiana State Licensing Board of Contractors (LSLBC) in July 2015. Three more elderly Baker residents filed complaints alleging that Bhatti worked on houses for over $75,000 without having a proper license.
One of the victims, a 61-year-old homeowner, said she entered a contract with Bhatti directly for $159,900 in July 2014.
Two other elderly victims complained about Bhatti to the LSLBC on a second count of not completing their contracts or possibly defrauding them of their money.
During the LSLBC hearing on July 15, the suspect's attorney entered a plea of no contest to the first count of "performing new residential construction or home improvements contracting services over $75,000 without possessing the proper State Residential Building License." Bhatti was also found guilty by the LSLBC on the second count of "performing contracts in an unworkable manner or has failed to complete contracts with no good cause, or has engaged in fraud or bad faith."
According to the LSLBC, Bhatti was cited for violations two other times. In 2009, he was fined after being found guilt of operating without home improvement registrations. In 2011, he was fined again after being found guilt of doing home improvement work in excess of $75,000.
LSLBC said that Bhatti's residential building contractor license expired in 2013.
Bhatti is also accused of similar activities in other parishes. Baker Police say he is a fugitive from the St. John Parish Sheriff's Office for similar charges.
Donaldsonville homeowner Lloyd Bernard said Bhatti came to him a few months ago, claiming to be with a business called Southern Remodeling. According to Bernard, Bhatti offered to do more than $70,000 worth of upgrades to his home.
Bernard said the man was very persuasive and compared him to a stereotypical used car salesman.
"This guy, he made it seem like he was going to take me to the other side," said Bernard.
However, after a few weeks of work Bernard realized something wasn't right and called off their agreement. He still lost thousands of dollars in the process.
While Bernard has had most of the damage fixed by another contractor, his house still shows signs of Bhatti's alleged work.
However, the case doesn't end there. Several victims, including Bernard, claim Bhatti used their personal information to take out loans. The Louisiana Attorney General's office has an ongoing investigating into Bhatti for alleged mortgage fraud.