Man sentenced; falsifies pizzeria & window protection company at US consulate compound in Iraq

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced that Joseph T. Morris, 52-year-old of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., formerly of Connecticut, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Alker Meyer in New Haven to 27 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, for operating two investment schemes that defrauded individuals out of more than $200,000.

According to court documents and statements made in court, Morris and two other individuals formed a company in Oct. 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, ultra-violet shielding, and privacy.  Morris was the company’s in-country manager in Iraq.

Morris made numerous fraudulent representations to his co-founders regarding the restaurant and the window film business, knowing that the representations would be communicated to potential investors to induce them to invest in the company.  Through the use of fraudulent emails and photographs, Morris falsely represented that a lease had been signed to establish a pizzeria on the U.S. consulate compound in Erbil, that renovations were underway, and that progress was being made toward completing renovations and opening the restaurant.  Morris 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.

Based on these misrepresentations, Morris caused approximately a dozen investors, most of whom were U.S. military veterans, to invest approximately $175,000 in the company.  Instead of using the money from investors to pay for legitimate business expenses, Morris diverted large sums of money for his own personal use.

The scheme was revealed in late April to early May 2012 when one of the co-founders discovered that the company did not have a lease or agreement to open and operate a pizza restaurant at the U.S. consulate compound in Erbil and that the company did not have an exclusive arrangement with a window film manufacturer to distribute and install specialty window film in Iraq.

Between May 2012 and Dec. 2012, Morris also defrauded two individuals out of a total of approximately $20,000 in start-up money that they provided to Morris as part of a plan to create an air cargo company based in Ghana.  Instead of using the funds for business expenses, Morris diverted large sums of money for his personal 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 has been released on bond.  He was ordered to report to prison on Jan. 15, 2016.

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