(WAFB) - The Louisiana Attorney General says there's a good reason his agency is not prosecuting criminal cases involving potential contractor fraud related to last year's historic flood. The reason, says Attorney General Jeff Landry, is that his agency has no legal power to do so, in most cases.
After reports were aired by WAFB last week profiling flood victims who said they were having trouble getting any help from the Attorney General, representatives from that agency sought to clarify the process during a meeting with WAFB staff members Wednesday morning. They also shared documents about how they say the agency has reached out to assist flood victims.
Louisiana Attorney General Chief Deputy Bill Stiles says the only time their agency can seek criminal prosecution is when local authorities recuse themselves or ask for their help. For example, a district attorney might recuse his or her office from a case because of a potential conflict of interest. The agency says so far, it has not had a single case where that has happened.
In the WAFB report, several local leaders, including some from local law enforcement, said it was their understanding that the attorney general's office would be handling cases of potential contractor fraud against flood victims. Stiles says that has never been the case and pointed to numerous instances of the agency holding news conferences and posting information on their website to clarify that.
Stiles says any flood victim who believes they have been defrauded by a contractor should first contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) at 1-866-720-5721. That center, located in Baton Rouge, fields all complaints and then refers the cases to the proper law enforcement agency, such as a sheriff's office, to further investigate. That way, the national center can keep track of whether a particular contractor might be accused in another jurisdiction and the center can then inform each jurisdiction of other possible fraud cases tied to that person. The NCDF has already fielded nearly 1,000 calls related to the August 2016 flood.
The Attorney General is able to assist, in a limited capacity, with civil consumer complaints that Louisiana residents might file against a contractor. In those cases, the Attorney General's Office can act as a mediator between the two parties. However, Stiles said, "A successful mediation can occur only when both parties agree to the process. Despite diligent efforts by Attorney General Jeff Landry's office, a successful mediation was not possible with either flood victim profiled in the WAFB report," Stiles said.
"The Attorney General's Office arrested Matthew Morris as a fugitive from Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office on February 8th, a month before the WAFB report aired," he added.
The Louisiana Attorney General's website has multiple articles, sections, and tips devoted to fraud prevention. It can be accessed by clicking here.