WILTON, Conn. — A former Wilton business man who swindling investors out of tens of thousands of dollars for a pizza business he claimed to be starting up in Iraq but never did was sentenced Tuesday to 27 months in federal prison.
Joseph T. Morris, 52, now of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was also sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Alker Meyer in New Haven to three years of supervised release for operating two investment schemes that defrauded individuals out of more than $200,000, said Deirdre M. Daly, U.S. attorney for Connecticut.
The investigation into Morris was initiated by Wilton Police Detective Scott Sear, police said.
According to court documents and statements made in court, Morris 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 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.
Morris was the company’s in-country manager in Iraq. He made numerous fraudulent representations to his co-founders regarding the restaurant and the window film business to entice investors.
Through the use of fraudulent emails and photographs, Morris falsely represented that the pizzeria was making progress toward opening on the U.S. consulate compound in Erbil.
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.
Based on these misrepresentations, Morris caused a dozen investors, most of whom were U.S. military veterans, to invest $175,000 in the company. Instead of using the money from investors to pay for legitimate business expenses, he diverted large sums of money for his personal use.
The scheme was revealed in May 2012 when one of the co-founders discovered the lies.
Between May 2012 and December 2012, Morris also defrauded two individuals out of $20,000 in startup money as part of a plan to create an air cargo company based in Ghana. Morris also diverted that money for his personal use.
As part of his sentence, he was ordered to pay restitution of $205,849.
Morris pleaded guilty to wire fraud on June 9 and has been released on bond. He was ordered to report to prison on Jan. 15.
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