Founder of Wilton company indicted on wire fraud

A former Connecticut resident has been charged in federal court with defrauding the co-founders and investors — which included military veterans — of his Wilton-based company out of approximately $175,000.

Deirdre M. Daly, United States attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced Wednesday, July 30, that a federal grand jury sitting in New Haven returned an indictment against Joseph T. Morris, 51, who now lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but previously lived in Fairfield County. The indictment, which was returned on July 1, was unsealed Tuesday during Mr. Morris’s arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Holly B. Fitzsimmons in Bridgeport, according to a press release from the U.S. attorney’s office.

According to the indictment, Mr. Morris joined with two others — one of whom was a Wilton resident — in forming 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, which is in the Kurdistan area of Iraq. It also proposed establishing a business to distribute and install specialty window film on vehicles and at hotels, homes and government buildings that would protect windows and windshields from blast and breakage, and provide heat retention, ultraviolet shielding, and privacy.

Mr. Morris, who claimed to have extensive military and business experience in Iraq, was the company’s in-country manager in Iraq, according to the release.

To induce potential investors to invest in the company, the indictment alleges that Mr. Morris used fraudulent emails and photographs, falsely representing that a lease had been signed to establish the pizzeria, that renovations were underway, and that progress was being made towards completing renovations and opening the restaurant.

He 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.

As a result, more than a dozen investors, most of whom were U.S. military veterans, sank approximately $175,000 in the company. Instead of using the money to pay for legitimate business expenses, the indictment alleges Mr. Morris used large sums of money for his personal use.

The scheme collapsed in 2012, when one of the Wilton co-founders discovered the company did not have a lease or agreement to open and operate the pizza restaurant and it did not have an exclusive arrangement with a window film manufacturer to distribute and install specialty window film in Iraq.

The co-founder lodged a complaint with the Wilton Police Department in December 2012, according to Wilton Lt. Don Wakeman.

“Realizing a misappropriation of funds, he came in to his local police department to make a complaint,” Lt. Wakeman said. After conducting an initial investigation, Wilton police turned the case over to federal investigators.

The indictment charges Mr. Morris with five counts of wire fraud, an offense that carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years on each count.

The case is being investigated by the U.S. Secret Service and the Connecticut Financial Crimes Task Force, which includes federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The prosecutor is Assistant U.S. Attorney Neeraj N. Patel.