Schemer with Wilton connection gets 27 months in jail

A police investigation that began in Wilton three years ago has resulted in the sentencing of Joseph T. Morris to 27 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for operating two investment schemes that defrauded people of more than $200,000. Morris was sentenced Tuesday, Nov. 24, by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Alker Meyer in U.S. District Court in New Haven and must report to prison on  Jan. 15, 2016.

According to a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s office, Morris, 52, presently of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but formerly of Connecticut, 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, ultraviolet shielding, and privacy. Morris, who claimed to have extensive military and business experience in Iraq, was the company’s in-country manager there.

To induce potential investors to invest in the company, 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, Morris took large sums of money for his personal use.

The scheme collapsed in 2012, when one of his co-founders, who lived in Wilton, 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. "Realizing a misappropriation of funds, he came into his local police department to make a complaint," former Lt. Don Wakeman said in 2014, when Morris was indicted. The investigation was initiated by Wilton Det. Scott Sear, and was then turned over to state and federal investigators.

Between May 2012 and December 2012, Morris also defrauded two individuals out of a total of approximately $20,000 in startup money they gave him as part of a plan to create an air cargo company based in Ghana, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.  Instead of using the funds for business expenses, Morris stole much of it for his person use. As part of his sentence, Morris was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $205,849.

Morris pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud on June 9, 2015, and since then has been released on bond.

In addition to Wilton police, this matter was investigated by the U.S. Secret Service and the Connecticut Financial Crimes Task Force, which includes federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Neeraj N. Patel.