Top area contractor arrested
Published 12:00 am Friday, December 5, 2008
By KEVIN CHIRI
Editor and Publisher
LAPLACE — A River Region contractor who ascended near the top of the area homebuilding scene has been arrested for allegedly defrauding a multitude of customers, after they had given him money up front to perform work.
Ray Leach, who owned and operated Ray Leach Construction in Southeast Louisiana, was arrested on Nov. 6 in Sag Harbor, New York, living what St. John Sheriff’s Investigator Maj. Robert Hay called “a luxurious lifestyle” near the infamous Hamptons.
He was booked on a St. John Parish warrant for misapplication of payments by contractors over $1,000, due to a case involving the construction of a LaPlace business, where he had signed a $1.3 million contract.
In that case, Leach allegedly pocketed over $150,000, according to Hay, and left the business owner having to repay suppliers and laborers out of her pocket when she began to find out that bills had not been paid.
However Hay said that the local case is expected to be just the tip of the iceberg for what may turn out to be massive fraud by Leach.
Hay said that his office is currently investigating “20 to 25 complaints” already, with that number expected to grow now that the story has been reported by the media.
“We already have a lot of complaints from people who said they paid money to him, and never got the work done,” Hay noted. “But we want anyone else to come forward who had a similar experience. I actually think we are going to hear from a lot more now that the story and his picture are being made public.”
Leach was arrested by the U.S. Marshall’s Office in New York, and awaited extradition to Louisiana, which took until this past week when he was brought to the St. John Parish jail and booked on Tuesday. He is currently still in the jail.
Hay said that Leach already has one other similar charge that he will be booked for, coming from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office. But once the intensive work is done on all the cases, he expects numerous other charges to be filed.
“There is a lot of work to do on all these cases to get the facts together, but then we can file other charges as we finish each investigation,” he explained.
“This will probably end up being so big that it’s hard to put a dollar amount on it right now,” Hay said. “We already know it is in the hundreds of thousands and it will clearly go much higher when we hear from everyone he defrauded.”
Leach had built his business in the River Parishes to become the number two contractor in terms of homes built, doing millions of dollars of work each year. He also did extensive work in St. Charles Parish and in the New Orleans area, building his company from the ground up, after starting in the homebuilding business as a beginning contractor.
Recent years saw him earning in the millions, according to reports he gave in newspaper stories.
The local case that began the investigation was brought to the attention of St. John investigators in February of 2008. A local businesswoman signed a contract to have two offices built just off Belle Terre Boulevard for $1.3 million.
Leach was given access to the construction funds and advised to take draws at different stages of construction. But mid-way through the construction of the second building, the businesswoman began to receive liens and notices of non-payment from suppliers and laborers.
Those bills totaled $91,247, which the businesswoman repaid herself. Additionally, the same businesswoman reportedly paid for a number of other cases out of her pocket when learning that clients she had recommended to Leach were also allegedly defrauded.
“The victim said she did not know what Mr. Leach did with the money, but she knows it definitely was not used to pay the bills for her two buildings,” the Sheriff’s Office report said.
Hay said that “multiple agencies” have expressed interest in the case due to complaints from a wide range of regions. The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office has also offered “outstanding help” in the case, the local investigator added.
“This will only get bigger when the publicity now goes out,” Hay said. “A lot of people have already been pursing Mr. Leach through civil means, and probably don’t realize that we have a criminal case here. But when they see this, they will probably be contacting us about a lot more cases that will be added to what we already have.”
Hay said that anyone who has information on any cases should contact him at the Sheriff’s Office by calling 652-9513.