Sheriff blasts D.A. for dropped charges in home repair scheme - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Sheriff blasts D.A. for dropped charges in home repair scheme

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Remember when Caddo Sheriff Steve Prator and District Attorney Charles Scott stood side by side and announced the arrests of four contractors and three city inspectors? It was for an alleged scheme to rip off taxpayers and fool the disadvantaged who needed home repairs. That was five years ago.

So what's happened to all those defendants? Almost nothing. And Sheriff Prator is going off.

"This was a big deal. But it turned into nothing," the disgusted sheriff says of the bust surrounding Shreveport's Office Of Community Development on August 31, 2009.

Prator provides records showing that of the seven people arrested, only two contractors paid fines, each totaling one thousand dollars after they pleaded no contest to their lesser charges involving licensing. Most of the charges have been dropped.

Most recently, the case of James Lester. He was supposed to replace the air conditioning unit at the home of an elderly blind woman.

"That's a blind lady being duped," Prator says, pointing to an enlarged photo of the victim's unit.

The sheriff's investigation accused Lester of only putting a new sticker over the old one on the worn out unit, and pocketing $25,000 dollars for that and other shoddy repairs. Lester was charged with home improvement fraud.

"We could not proceed under these circumstances," says District Attorney Scott.

He says the law against home improvement fraud did not take effect until four months after the arrests. So Lester could not be prosecuted on that charge.

"We have to follow the law," Scott says.

But Sheriff Prator says if Lester was charged incorrectly, that fault lies completely with the DA's office. And he says the DA's office could've fixed the charge.

"Come back and file a new bill of information. Do something. You can do something," Prator says. "That's just theft. It's just wrong. It doesn't take a rocket scientist."

But Scott says his office could not prove theft -- or theft by fraud -- because Lester did perform other work at the home.

"Seventy-eight percent of the work was done. That did not meet the statute, even if the statute was in effect, which it was not," Scott says.

Prator says, "It's somewhat frustrating when we can't even get the low hanging fruit convicted."

The sheriff says he only learned there was a problem when the case was dismissed recently. Both the sheriff and the DA say they'll still work together to fight crime. But for Scott, there's another concern.

"I never want to lose a political ally," he says.

Scott was boosted into office with Prator's endorsement in 2008. Scott faces re-election this year, likely without the sheriff at his side.

Scott is appealing a judge's decision to throw out a lesser charge against Lester of filing a false public record.

One last defendant, contractor Alphonso Williams, still faces trial next month. The sheriff says his case has been continued 39 times.

This is not the first time Prator and Scott have clashed. Two years ago, Prator called for an investigation when his office was not notified -- as required by law -- that the district attorney's office received eight fully automatic M-16 rifles.

So far, no one's come out to challenge Scott for re-election. But attorney Craig Smith says he's considering it.

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