Contractor set to take stand in fraud trial

By Carolyn Roy – bio|email|Twitter

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) – Shreveport contractor James Alex III is expected to take the stand in his own defense Thursday.  The owner of Ninja Remodeling Co. is accused of contracting without a license and home improvement fraud in a criminal trial stemming from his arrest in August 2009 along with six others connected to the city's Department of Community Development.

The prosecution rested its case on Wednesday, after calling the Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office investigators to the stand to explain how the newly-formed "Special Investigations Section" came to focus on the Neighborhood Revitalization Program, through which repairs and construction are done on the homes of the low-to-moderate income elderly and disabled.  The programs are funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and administered through Community Development.  Working together, the Caddo Sheriff's Office, Louisiana State Police and Caddo District Attorney's office say they found evidence of scams on elderly victims, which is a felony offense. 

One of those homes belongs to 69-year-old Rosie James.  Caddo Assistant District Attorney Lea Hall says James Alex took advantage her and the system by accepting thousands of dollars in payment for shoddy and incomplete work her Queensborough neighborhood home. James took the stand Wednesday, becoming emotional at the mention of her husband.  Levorn James died almost three months ago of cancer, but Rosie James tearfully testified that he was undergoing treatment for cancer at the time the repair work was being done on her home in early 2009.  James says it was hard for her husband to stay comfortable during that time.  She says he stayed cold because the Alex's employees sometimes left doors open, and all the activity made it difficult for Levorn to move around the house. 
James also testified that she told Alex at least once that his employees weren't always showing up, or doing any work when they did.  She said Alex told her to contact him if it happened again.  "I called him once.  I didn't call him no more."  Instead, she says she told Community Development inspector Ray Jones, who she says reassured her they would get the work done.

Under cross examination, James told Alex's attorney Frank Brown that she knew the work wasn't finished when they left. "I know they wasn't through, I just didn't care.  I just wanted them to leave." Still, James admits she signed off on the completion order presented to her by Jones and never took her complaints to authorities or the Department of Community Development.  She says she  learned of the criminal investigation the day two Caddo Sheriff's investigators knocked on her door.

Some $7,700 worth of repairs remain unfinished today.  That includes little or no attic insulation and a set of concrete steps that the prosecution's expert witness says is not installed "to code," because they're not flush against the house and create a tripping hazard.  Caddo Parish Assistant Director of Public Works Tim Weaver is a certified building inspector.  He also testified to the installation of a cheaper Goodman brand heating and air conditioning unit,  which the prosecution pointed out is not on the list of "allowable" brands to be used on the job. Hall suggested Alex installed the lower-end unit to cut costs and pocket the difference.  On cross-examination, however, Weaver acknowledged that the Goodman unit would probably work just as well, although it does not carry as good a warranty as the other brands. 

Department of Community Development Director Bonnie Moore also took the stand Wednesday, testifying that Alex had been paid for the work because it had been satisfactorily completed, based on inspection reports from Ray Jones.  Jones and two other inspectors, Daniel Lacour and Jackie Mandigo, were also arrested in August. All three have since been fired and are also awaiting trial on criminal charges of filing false public records.

Alex's attorney Frank Brown repeatedly pointed out that his client would not have been paid if the inspector had not signed off on the work. Still, Brown objected to any mention of Ray Jones' arrest for allegedly filing false public documents in connection with the case in front of the jury.  Caddo District Court Judge Mike Pittman overruled that objection.

Contractors Santana Brown and James Lester face similar charges as Alex in upcoming trials.  A trial date for a fourth contractor, Alphonso Williams, has not been set.

Hall says each of the upcoming trials have to be done separately because witnesses in related cases can't be cross-examined by attorneys for different defendants. 

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