Lake Charles

Task force to tackle contractor fraud

Calcasieu Parish District Attorney Stephen Dwight and Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso have teamed up to create a Contractor Fraud Response Team to combat contractor fraud across the parish.

“It’s a joint effort by a lot of different agencies … we’ve had a lot of phone calls and a lot of complaints from citizens throughout our parish about the increase in contractor fraud throughout our area after both of the hurricanes and we’re going to investigate, we’re going to bring them to justice and prosecute them to the fullest,” Dwight said.

The Contractor Fraud Response Team number is 437-3405.

“There are a lot of people hurting here, they’ve lost a lot. They’ve had trouble with insurance, they’ve had trouble with a lot of things, and now to have a contractor come in and swindle them out of the money they finally do get … it’s just not acceptable and we can’t tolerate it — we’ve got to be aggressive with it,” Mancuso said. “Please pick up the phone if you’re not sure and let us take care of it.”

As of Monday, 10 cases are already in DA’s office from the Sheriff’s Office in response to contractor fraud, but Mancuso said his office has 100 cases and has made eight arrests. No cases have been disposed of as of yet.

Residents are asked to always check references and to be alert to the warning signs of common contractor frauds, such as door-to-door solicitations, demands for cash, unusually large down payments, no references, no permanent address, high pressure sales or scare tactics, no insurance or license, or no contract.

The task force will be able to investigate cases and determine if they are a civil or criminal issue so those victims can file the proper lawsuit. The statute of limitations for a civil lawsuit is one year, so those who suspect they may be victim should call as soon as possible; the statute for a criminal case is up to four years.

“Contractor fraud is not just a black and white issue. There’s things that can make it civil, there are things that can make it criminal,” Mancuso said.

Dwight and Mancuso said civil matters are when faulty work is done or when a substantial amount of work has been completed. Contractor fraud is considered a criminal offense when the contractor fails to perform work 45 days after receiving payment unless a longer period is specified in the contract.

It is also considered fraud when a contractor does work without a construction license.

“The police officers are not the attorneys. We want to expedite getting the reports done, getting this team together to determine that fairly quickly so that if you need to take civil action you can, and of course the criminal action will obviously fall in place with filing the charges, making the arrests, getting warrants and all of that,” Mancuso said.

“We urge all of our citizens that have been victims of contractor fraud to contact our office … we’ll answer any questions you have, we’ll assign an investigator to take care of that matter and we will bring those cases to justice,” Dwight said.

Citizens are urged to report suspected fraud even if they are unsure whether actual criminal fraud has been committed.

Angela Guth, president of the Better Business Bureau serving Southwest Louisiana, expressed her gratitude.

“We are very fortunate to have this task force set up. In the beginning we were getting a lot of complaints and we still are getting a lot of complaints, but to have this task force that we’ll be working very closely with, we’re excited to have,” Guth said. “We’re nonprofit, so we’re basically a resource … where people can come in and call, they can go online, and research these contractors before they’re hired. If anyone has any doubt before they hire a contractor, call us, or look them up … we encourage you to do that.”

The Better Business Bureau has contractors vetted with them, so residents can know if they’re licensed or insured. If a contractor is out of state, the organization can look up these other businesses in database to see if they are licensed or insured.

“I want to make sure that everyone understands that if it’s $7,500 or more, including materials and labor, you have to have a license of some degree. If you’re looking to make sure someone’s licensed, we can pull that information for you if you don’t have access to it and we can make sure that they are properly licensed before you hire them for your job,” Guth said.

To complain to or to contact the Better Business Bureau, people can call 478-6253 or visit https://www.bbb.org/local-bbb/bbb-of-southwest-louisiana.

Written by Kathleen Hilliard

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