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Louisiana contractor released after serving flood sentences

September 24, 2018, Baton Rouge, LA — A Baton Rouge contractor convicted of filing inflated property liens in a scheme to defraud homeowners who flooded in August 2016 was released from jail Monday morning in Ascension Parish.

Defense attorney Al Robert Jr. said Matthew J. Morris, 41, has finished two four-year prison sentences he received over the past three weeks for filing false public records in Ascension and Livingston parishes.

Robert added that Morris remains out on bail for a pending bank fraud charge in Terrebonne Parish. Online records in Terrebonne show Morris is set for trial Nov. 13.

For the single counts in Ascension and Livingston parishes, Morris took what is known as Alford pleas. In the pleas, he admitted that the evidence against him, if presented at trial, would likely lead to his conviction, but was allowed to maintain his innocence.

Morris has done so with vigor, claiming he lost money on his post-flood contracting work and blaming his subcontractors on the homeowners' woes.

The plea agreements also prevent Morris and the homeowners from suing each other further.

Morris' defense attorney Mike Fawer said Monday his client is "glad to put this behind him." Morris will continue, Fawer added, to advocate that Louisiana legal protections for homeowners match what homeowners in Texas and Florida receive and that "small business owners who seek to help flood victims" have better protections also.

"He hopes to have the opportunity to tell his story, but his most immediate concern is to spend time with his family," Fawer said.

The plea deals were part of a global agreement expected to lead to the dismissal of more than 160 fraud and other counts against Morris in Ascension, Livingston, East Baton Rouge and St. John the Baptist parishes. Robert said the counts in Ascension and Livingston and those in East Baton Rouge have been dismissed already.

Prosecutors have said they reached the agreement to ensure that Morris' victims could receive some kind of monetary settlement from his insurer. Additional convictions for fraud or other charges would have undercut any settlement through the insurer.

Morris' victims in Ascension and Livingston were paid more than $299,200 in restitution, prosecutors have said.

In both pleas, judges in Ascension and Livingston gave Morris concurrent four-year sentences with credit for time served since his arrest in February 2017. With additional good time reductions, Morris was able to complete the sentences and be released Monday from Ascension Parish Prison.

Morris pleaded and was sentenced in Livingston Parish on Sept. 4.

In the Ascension plea agreement that Morris admitted to Sept. 18, prosecutors said the false records were filed in the final part of a scheme to inflate the home demolition, restoration and other costs for the owners of 18 homes flooded in August 2016.

The plea deal says Morris, CEO of Complete Construction Contractors, falsely presented himself as licensed to do home restoration after a flood.

He gave clients contracts with no monetary amount and with open-ended cost language of "up to $750,000." He also never provided invoices or estimates until after demolition was finished and payment was demanded at a price $15,000 to $30,000 more than the going rate, the plea says.

Through additional inflated billing practices related to the drying and decontamination of the home, Morris would leave his clients in the position that they had spent or mostly spent their maximum insurance payouts before home repair was finished, forcing them to terminate the contract, the plea says.

Once the contract was terminated, Morris used portions of the agreement to add fees that were not related to actual work, including claims assistance even though he did not have a license to act as a public adjuster, the plea says.

Through this process, he also used special estimating software to grossly inflate customers' costs and add charges for work that wasn't done. Reports from that software were used as documentation in exaggerated contractors' liens Morris filed against the flood-damaged homes of his former clients, the plea says.

Victims and law enforcement officials have said the liens blocked homeowners from finishing their home restorations, though Morris later released the liens after his arrest.

Source: The Advocate

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