CENTRAL, LA (WAFB) - Several homeowners in the Baton Rouge area want residents to keep their eyes peeled for an out-of-town contractor. They say he swooped in, took their money, and left their homes in shambles.
The 9News Investigators uncovered the contractor may have a disturbing past.
Lee Wilson has owned the same home in Central for nearly three decades, only he has not lived there in seven months. He and his wife were forced out by the August flood.
"It's a depressing thing when you have to leave home," Wilson said.
Even more disheartening, he said, was coming home to the aftermath of six and a half feet of water. "Everything destroyed, everything tumbled up. We lost everything," Wilson said.
Wilson has flood insurance. He said after getting a few estimates, he hired a man named Willie Morris, Jr., the owner of a company called Budget Unlimited Construction out of Houston, Texas.
"We cut a pretty good deal. He said he was going to come in here and do everything," Wilson said.
According to the invoice from Budget Unlimited Construction, the company would treat for mold, install and paint walls, remove and replace cabinets and floors, rewire the house, and more for $36,542. Wilson said in October, he put down $10,000 to get the work started, but in December, when he cut a check to Morris for the remaining balance, the contractor never returned. He said Morris only installed and painted the sheetrock.
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"That's all he did. He didn't put none of this in here. The plugs, I had to rewire the whole house," Wilson said.
Wilson said Morris showed him a document which indicated his business was insured. He also gave him a signed copy of a certificate to operate his business from the Harris County, Texas clerk's office. Since Morris showed him what appeared to be a tax ID number, Wilson said he thought the business was legitimate.
The 9News Investigators did an online search for Contractors Shield, the name of the insurance company Morris claimed covered him. It could not be found. Investigators also followed up with the Harris County clerk's office in Texas regarding the certificate.
The deputy county clerk who signed the document, Megan Houghton, said over the phone that anyone with a valid ID who pays the $16.50 fee can obtain the certificate to operate.
"It's not a license. It's just a doing business as a certificate so they can open a bank account and just do business under that name," Houghton said.
Texas does not require contractors to carry a license with that state, but in Louisiana, any contractor doing mold remediation and repair work in that amount must be licensed and regulated by the state. Compliance director for the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors (LSLBC), Brad Hassert, said Morris is not licensed to do work here.
"We know nothing of Mr. Morris at this point," Hassert said.
Hassert said he cannot comment on whether any complaints have been filed with the LSLBC, but the 9News Investigators have spoken to at least three people who said they have reported Morris to the LSLBC, the law, and the Louisiana Attorney General's Office.
The 9News Investigators also uncovered documents which said a man named Willie Morris, Jr. is a registered sex offender in Texas since 2005 for indecency with a child by exposure. When we showed a picture of that man to two different customers, they said that is the man who worked on their houses.
Hassert said such an offense would not have prevented Morris from getting a license to do home repairs in Louisiana, but it is especially disturbing for Wilson and his relatives who invited Morris into their homes without knowing that information.
"He said God sent him to help us, but I think the devil sent him here," Wilson said.
We tried to reach Mr. Morris at the two numbers he provided homeowners, but we were directed to automated messages stating the voicemail box was full or the person we were trying to reach was not accepting calls.
Wilson has hired a lawyer, but his house is far from finished. He said he is not sure when he will be able to afford to hire another contractor to finish the work.