THE INVESTIGATORS: Criminal past of accused contractor raises questions about how he obtained license

Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Officials with the Baton Rouge Police Department say Matthew Morris, accused of taking advantage of more than a dozen flood victims, is now in custody.

On Wednesday, February 22, he was booked in Livingston Parish on charges of residential contractor fraud, felony misapplication of payments, and contracting without a license. The licensing board has suspended Morris' license and has set a hearing for March 16, but records show alleged fraud is not the only thing in his past.

According to a probable cause report from BRPD, Morris was charged with armed robbery, attempted first degree murder, and aggravated battery in December of 2003. Those felony charges were later reduced, but court records show Morris pleaded guilty to simple battery, a misdemeanor.

Six years later, in 2009, Morris applied for a contracting license. In that application, obtained by the 9News Investigators, when asked if he had been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor Morris checked "no," but in a more recent mold remediation application, when presented with the same question, his answer was "yes." In the "Explain" section of the application, the document shows Morris wrote: "I went through a rough period and had some DWI and alcohol-related incidents," but nowhere in that section does Morris make any mention of his guilty plea on the misdemeanor simple battery charge.

Brad Hassert, compliance director with the licensing board, said it's the answer on Morris' application form that will be brought before the board at a hearing next month to decide the status of the contractor's license.

"That's actually one of the allegations that we're bringing forth to the board against Mr. Morris," Hassert said. "At that point, Mr. Morris will have an opportunity to present to the board his explanation of the things that have been alleged against him."

Hassert said the board conducts a financial background check on all applicants, but does not screen applicants' criminal history, which may have been how Morris was able to slip through the cracks.

"Mr. Morris as well as every other applicant signs an application form, attesting to the truthfulness of such under a notary's signature," Hassert added.

Hassert admits that currently, there is no rule that says an applicant cannot have a previous felony or misdemeanor conviction in their past, but he says they rely on the information in those notarized forms to make their licensing decisions.

"Our common and consistent goal is to provide a safe environment for everyone and a reputable contractor that won't take advantage of the situation and performs quality work," Hassert said.

The 39-year-old contractor was arrested and bonded out of jail earlier this month, accused of ripping off more than a dozen flood victims in Ascension Parish. Since then, he has been hit with another seven cases of fraud in Livingston Parish, and according to a recently signed warrant for his arrest, BRPD also want him for the Fairhaven Dr. case of fraud, which allegedly happened well before the historic flood.

Police Chief Shannon Wommack confirmed Morris will also be booked in Denham Springs on four more charges, including misapplication of payments, engaging in business of contracting without authority, filing false public records, and home improvement fraud.

With roughly 24 alleged cases of fraud, several residents want answers from Morris. He will get his chance to address these allegations before the Louisiana Licensing Board for Contractors in a hearing set for next month.

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