The Investigators: Who do you call to make a complaint for contr - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

The Investigators: Who do you call to make a complaint for contractor fraud?

Source: WAFB Source: WAFB
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -

Who do you call to make a complaint about contractor fraud? Over the past few weeks, it seems to be a confusing question not only for flood victims, but for many of the officials as well.

"You know what that is? That's fake news," said Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.

The 9News Investigators’ questions for the AG focused on who in the state is in charge of tracking down and prosecuting those accused of ripping off victims of the August flood.

One of those victims is Courtney Stricklin, who went to the AG's office for help with Matthew Morris, the contractor she said she hired to fix her flooded home.

"It's absolutely devastating,” said Stricklin. “I have two small children and we just want our lives to be back to normal."

Christie Andry said Matthew Morris also took her for a ride promising to repair her flooded antique shop on Tigerbend Road in East Baton Rouge Parish.

When things did not add up, and $20,000 later, "That is when we started going to the Attorney General's office."

"It's so much going on and you look to a public figure or this service that is there for the public and you expect to get helped and it's a letdown when you feel like your voice wasn't heard," Stricklin added.

But when Andry said the AG's office was no help, she called the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office. Andry said a deputy there told her she could not file a complaint with them.

"He actually said, 'Hold on, I'm going to call the Attorney General's office,' so he called the Attorney General's office and he called me back and he said, 'They're handling it,'" said Andry.

While still waiting on the AG's office, she also called the EBR District Attorney's office.

"They got an email the Friday before last from the Attorney General's office telling them that they're no longer dealing with this and anybody calls them with a complaint is to go to their local law enforcement agencies now," Andry added.

"We were all under the impression that if and when that happened, we would be contacted by the Attorney General's office to be told that they were no longer handling it, but as far as I know, none of us have ever gotten that phone call," Stricklin explained.

"I think that's a lot of miscommunication out there. I think that's people just having a certain amount of anxiety, which I can appreciate and empathize on that," Landry stated.

Is your office so overwhelmed by contractor fraud cases that you've asked local law enforcement to take some of their cases back?

"I, I, I … No, again, I don't know where you're going. I think, I feel as if you're probing in an effort and making something up," Landry said.

But two area sheriffs said following the flood, their understanding was to send all contractor fraud cases to the AG's office and the AG would handle them.

"So we started forwarding those cases to them,” said Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard. “I don't think, and this is just my opinion, I don't think the attorney general realized the amount of cases that was actually going to come to him. I don't think anybody did, because we didn't."

Ard said prior to the August flood, his office received four or five contractor fraud cases a year. He said there are now well over 100 cases with deputies taking four or five contractor fraud cases a day.

"The AG's office initially said they would handle complaints on contractor fraud," said East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux. "They have a whole contractor fraud unit, but they have been overwhelmed. They got overwhelmed with all the contractor fraud that has been going on, so they asked us, through our local DAs, if we would help them pick up the slack some and certainly, we will."

Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley said his office never solicited the AG's involvement and did fraud investigations on its own.

So now, District Attorney Hillar Moore is also preparing to prosecute his own cases on a local level.

"I initially thought the attorney general was going to handle those cases, but after now talking to with other DAs in the local area, AG and other ADAs, it appears as if each individual DA in each parish where the allegations occurred will probably handle their own cases," said Moore.

"That's just not happening, so these indigenous rumors are certainly disturbing because it puts bad information out there to the public," Landry explained.

The day after our interview, Landry sent an email to local law enforcement and prosecutors saying all cases should be sent to the National Center for Disaster Fraud, NCDF, where cases would be reviewed and then sent to the appropriate agency.

So, what about those flood victims who say they've been waiting for months to hear back from Landry's office?

They feel that for several months, all they have been doing is wasting their time calling this agency, calling that agency and can't get any answers and they're not able to move forward.

"Well, what is the answer they're looking for?" Landry asked.

Some help.

"Again, what is the help that they're looking for?" Landry questioned.

As far as catching a contractor or putting even a warrant out or letting them know something.

"Again, why don't you leave that that's best left to those people? If you or they are insinuating that we are ignoring or basically allowing contractors, knowingly allowing contractors to go out there and defraud people and not doing anything about it, that's false and you know what that is? That's fake news," Landry said.

"I just feel that is their responsibility. This is a statewide organization that is supposed to protect the public," said Andry.

"When you reach out for help and you're basically ignored, you just add to that hurt and as an elected official, I feel like you should be doing the exact opposite. Your community is broken and this was your chance to help pick them up," said Stricklin.

What do you say to these people who are upset with the way everything has been handled by the attorney general's office?

"Again, it's interesting because I've never had them complain directly to me,” Landry said.

The 9News Investigators were told the attorney general's office has not made any arrests related to contractor fraud from the August flood. The 9News Investigators sent an email Wednesday to Ruth Wisher, the attorney general's press secretary.

Could you tell me how many contractor fraud arrests have been made by the attorney general's office in regards to the Aug. 2016 flood?

"We do not comment on the number of complaints receive, as they could lead to investigations. However, we recommend people contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud so they can pass the complain on to the appropriate agency," said Wisher in an email response.

The 9News Investigators responded with, "I did not ask for the number of complaints received. I asked how many arrests have been made for contractor fraud related to the Aug. 2016 flood."

The last response from the AG's office was, "That would be a question for the National Center for Disaster Fraud," said Wisher.

But the National Center for Disaster Fraud said it does not track arrests. It is not a prosecuting agency, meaning it cannot make arrests.

Plus, the executive director of the center, Walt Green, said the center has only one complaint for contractor fraud involving loss of money. The one case is on Matthew Morris.

One of the flood victims in our report, Courtney Stricklin, actually used to work for Matthew Morris, the contractor who's now behind bars.

Thursday night at 10, hear her story of what she said she witnessed while working for him and, now, how she's helping police to put together a case against him.

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