BATON ROUGE — Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office has spent the last month clarifying the department’s role in fraud cases for flood victims.
The attorney general’s office recently came under scrutiny when victims from the August 2016 floods complained they were receiving conflicting information on who to contact about fraud related to contractor work.
“I think a lot of the victims were confused as to what the attorney general’s office can do and confused as to whether or not they’re actually involved in a civil dispute resolution process or if there was an actual investigation for criminal activity,” Bill Stiles, attorney general chief deputy told the Louisiana Record.
Victims and some local law enforcement reported miscommunication about the process, claiming initially the attorney general’s office said they were investigating fraud, but were now telling victims to call the National Center for Disaster Fraud, a center that takes all fraud complaints.
“We don’t represent the consumer or the contractor in the case of contractor fraud,” Stiles said. “We’re just the party both are coming to try to resolve their issue before they go to court.”
The attorney general is only able to offer mediation in civil cases only if both parties involved agree to it.
“On the civil side, we have a very limited authority by statute to basically just do dispute resolution … which is quite frankly not the most productive endeavor when both parties have to agree to the dispute resolution process,” Stiles said. “A lot of these cases, both parties aren’t interested in that type of activity.”
According to Stiles, at least one flood contractor fraud case that had been resolved through dispute resolution through the attorney general’s office.
The attorney general’s office continues to work to clear up any confusion. Stiles recently met with flood victims to hear their frustrations and share the process with them.
Stiles advised anyone that feels they may be a victim of fraud to call the National Center for Disaster Fraud as well their local law enforcement. The National Center collects the information from all fraud complaints and sends it to the proper law enforcement. The National Center is able to track repeat contractor offenders who may be committing fraud in other parts of the state or country.
Stiles encouraged the public to remember that the investigations take time. Local law enforcement must process information from the National Center for Disaster Fraud as well as details from their own investigation to determine if it is a criminal or civil case.