(WAFB) - The 9News Investigators have been pressing Attorney General Jeff Landry's office to find out how many, if any, arrests have been made for contractor fraud related to the August 2016 flood. We were directed to an agency that does not have the power to make arrests.
"That's fake news," said Landry. That was the response from Landry when we asked why contractor fraud victims believe they are getting the run around when filing complaints.
- KIRAN CHAWLA - WAFB: Well, I'm not making it up.
- ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF LANDRY: Well, I'm just telling you, I'm just telling you.
- KIRAN: I don't do fake news.
- LANDRY: Well, I'm just telling you, that, that, that, if there is, if you are insinuating that our office has information and we have the information necessary to arrest someone and we're not arresting them...
- KIRAN: That's not what I said ever.
- LANDRY: Well...
- KIRAN: That's definitely not what I said.
- LANDRY: Then I don't know what the issue is.
- KIRAN: The issue is you have people in the community who are saying that nobody is taking their complaint. They are getting the run around. Their local law enforcement is saying go to the AG's office. The AG's office is telling the district attorney tell them to go to their local law enforcement. These people do not know who to go to.
- LANDRY: That's impossible. Is it running (pointing to the camera)? That is impossible because what you're saying, we have an 800 number, consumer fraud protection hot line. The federal government has an 800 number. We have constantly told consumers out there that those two areas are clearing houses. In fact, we have tried to push everybody through the National Fraud Disaster Center.
Last October, Landry, along with several officials, held a news conference pushing the National Center for Disaster Fraud. It's a federal center that's located in Baton Rouge at LSU, where victims can call to file fraud complaints.
Back then, officials told the media the center had already received 1,200 complaints in regards to the August flood, expecting that number to soar to 6,000.
"We have been working with the National Center for Disaster Fraud recovery here in Louisiana and we've been actively pursuing those people based on complaints that we get or when we have an opportunity to work with our federal, local, and state partners in figuring out contractor fraud," said Landry.
However, Sheriff Jason Ard said when his deputies would call the AG's office about Livingston Parish cases, they were directed to the National Center for Disaster Fraud. "All we did was start trying to take our cases back one by one and basically going back and interviewing these folks as much as we could," said Sheriff Ard. "Anything that comes in today, comes straight through us and we actually investigate that to the end."
That's because at first, Sheriff Ard said they were told to forward all contractor fraud cases from the August flood to the Attorney General's office. East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said he was told the same thing, but now his office has started investigating their own cases.
"That's what we're doing. We're picking up the slack. We know they're overwhelmed. I mean, anybody would be even though they have a division dedicated to handling that. They're just overwhelmed," said Sheriff Gautreaux.
"Fraud cases take time and what I would tell consumers out there is have patience, give us their information. We're taking their information very seriously. We're investigating all of the complaints. Unfortunately, I can't help but tell you it's been difficult when the governor singles your agency out to take a disappropriate cuts at a time when we're getting these types of complaints. We can only work based upon the resources that we're getting, but we're doing it as a fast as we can and as efficiently as we can," said Landry.
The 9News Investigators are told the Attorney General's office has not made any contractor fraud arrests related to the August flood. We emailed press secretary, Ruth Wisher, asking, "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?"
In an email, Wisher responded, "We do not comment on the number of complaints receive(d) as they could lead to investigations. However, we recommend people contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud so they can pass the complain(t) on to the appropriate agency."
The 9News Investigators responded, "I did not ask for the number of complaints received. I asked how many arrests have been made for contractor fraud related to the August 2016 flood."
Wisher responded, "That would be a question for the National Center for Disaster Fraud."
The 9News Investigators reached out to the National Center for Disaster Fraud executive director, Walt Green. He said the National Center for Disaster Fraud does not track arrests and that they are not a prosecuting agency, meaning they cannot even make arrests.
Plus, remember officials said the number of calls for complaints from the August flood would be around 6,000 to the center? Walt said so far, they have received only one contractor fraud complaint involving loss of money, one call on Matthew Morris, the contractor who has been arrested by numerous agencies accused of contractor fraud.
- LANDRY: My question is have they called the National Center for Disaster Recovery?
- KIRAN: They have called their local law enforcement.
- LANDRY: No, no, I'm asking you a question.
- KIRAN: I don't know that.
- LANDRY: Well then, that's a question.
- KIRAN: And I'll ask.
- LANDRY: I'm giving you the question you should be asking them.
- KIRAN: Did the Attorney General's office ever tell you to call the National Center for Disaster Fraud?
- ANDRY: No, they did not. They told me they were handling it.
- KIRAN: As an elected official and the state attorney general, is it your job to help victims of fraud?
- LANDRY: Well, look, we have a victims' rights statute in this state. We have a victims' rights coordinator in our office. We certainly are overwhelmed in a number of complaints based upon the flood event that occurred. Again, it's why I would encourage them to petition the governor that we get more resources in an effort to be able to better communicate with them and again to bring the number of cases that we have to fruition.
- KIRAN: But talking specifically about the victims, you are an elected official. You are the state Attorney General's office. Do you feel it is your responsibility to help victims of fraud?
- LANDRY: Absol....Well look, it's my job to bring people to justice.