Former Connecticut Resident Charged With Running Iraq Business Opportunity Investment Scheme
Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, today announced that a federal grand jury sitting in New Haven has returned an indictment charging JOSEPH T. MORRIS, 51, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., formerly of Connecticut, with defrauding the co-founders and investors of his Wilton-based company out of approximately $175,000. The indictment was returned on July 1, 2014, and was unsealed yesterday during MORRIS’s arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Holly B. Fitzsimmons in Bridgeport.
According to the indictment, MORRIS and two other individuals formed a company in October 2011 to develop business opportunities in Iraq. The company’s initial focus was on establishing a pizza restaurant at the U.S. Consulate compound in Erbil, Iraq, and establishing a business to distribute and install specialty window film on vehicles and at hotels, residences, and government buildings, which would protect windows and windshields from blast and breakage, and provide heat retention, ultra-violet shielding, and privacy. MORRIS was the company’s in-country manager in Iraq.
The indictment alleges that MORRIS made numerous fraudulent representations to his co-founders regarding the restaurant and the window film business, knowing that the representations would be communicated to potential investors to induce them to invest in the company. Through the use of fraudulent emails and photographs, MORRIS falsely represented that a lease had been signed to establish a pizzeria on the U.S. consulate compound in Erbil, that renovations were underway, and that progress was being made toward completing renovations and opening the restaurant. MORRIS also falsely represented that the company had an exclusive arrangement with a specialty window film manufacturer to distribute and install the window film in all of Iraq. Based on these misrepresentations, MORRIS caused approximately a dozen investors, most of whom were U.S. military veterans, to invest approximately $175,000 in the company. Instead of using the money from investors to pay for legitimate business expenses, MORRIS diverted large sums of money for his own personal use.
The alleged scheme collapsed in late April to early May 2012 when one of the co-founders discovered that the company did not have a lease or agreement to open and operate a pizza restaurant at the U.S. consulate compound in Erbil and that the company did not have an exclusive arrangement with a window film manufacturer to distribute and install specialty window film in Iraq.
The indictment charges MORRIS with five counts of wire fraud, an offense that carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years on each count.
U.S. Attorney Daly stressed that an indictment is not evidence of guilt. Charges are only allegations, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This case is being investigated by the U.S. Secret Service, the Wilton Police Department, and the Connecticut Financial Crimes Task Force, which includes federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Neeraj N. Patel.
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