NEW ORLEANS -- Contractor Ernest Blackwell has been accused of taking money for home repairs and elevations in five metro parishes for either unfinished work or shoddy work.
He was arrested earlier this month by the U.S. Marshal's Service, but he's already wanted again.
After Hurricane Isaac in the summer 2012, 7,000 homes in St. John the Baptist Parish unexpectedly went under water, including one on Oak Shadow Court in LaPlace.
But the disaster for the homeowners didn't stop there. They hired a company called Professional Remodeling Specialists, LLC to fix their home. It’s one of two companies reportedly operated by Ernest Blackwell. The other is Professional Shoring Elevations.
“Some people were probably desperate to get who they could get and try to get their houses fixed,” said St. John Sheriff’s Office Detective Michael Shard.
The St. John sheriff assigned Shard to exclusively investigate contractor fraud complaints in the parish. He said Tuesday that the sheriff’s office has received 75 to 100 of them since Hurricane Isaac. Three of those are for work done poorly or not done at all by Ernest Blackwell.
The homeowners on Oak Shadow Court told investigators Blackwell took $50,000 of an $82,000 contract to fix their home, but the work Blackwell completed did not pass inspection.
The detective’s report shows the homeowners told him Blackwell also didn't pay his subcontractor and that the kitchen and bath subcontractor then put a lien on their property.
“Mr. Blackwell was arrested by U.S. Marshals back in early September of this year,” Shard said.
We first learned of the complaints about Ernest Blackwell when Cindy Butler’s Marrero home started collapsing in on itself back in March of 2012. She said she paid Blackwell tens of thousands of dollars to elevate her home, under the umbrella of his company Professional Shoring Elevations.
He’s charged with theft and contractor fraud in Jefferson Parish because of the work on Butler’s botched elevation. In the meantime, Butler is still unable to live in or repair her home because she has no money left to do so. Blackwell took the money from the $100,000 hazard mitigation grant she received from Jefferson Parish.
A year and a half later, Butler can no longer afford to pay the mortgage on her wrecked home and rent, so she had a FEMA trailer installed in the backyard to live in.
From Lafourche Parish, to Orleans Parish, to Jefferson Parish, Plaquemines and now St. John, Blackwell now has complaints against him in five parishes.
He was most recently arrested for allegedly writing a bad check to pay a subcontractor in Plaquemines in 2012. At the time of his arrest in early September 2013, he also had warrants out for his arrest in St. John and Jefferson.
He bonded out of jail after being questioned by detectives in St. John and Jefferson parishes earlier this month, but the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Office said he didn't show up for court in Plaquemines on the same charge last week, so Blackwell is once again wanted.
“Will he face substantial jail time or will you get your money back? That's the bottom line here. That's the only two options I see that's gonna happen to Mr. Blackwell,” said St. John Sheriff Mike Tregre.
Tregre urges residents still waiting to fix homes that Hurricane Isaac flooded to try and be patient and do their homework before hiring a contractor.
Detectives say Blackwell was also using another man's state home improvement certification, since Blackwell's license was revoked by the State Licensing Board for Contractors in February 2012.
We tried to contact Blackwell for a comment on the latest allegations, but he didn't get back to us.
Katie Moore has documented problems with Blackwell’s work for more than a year. You can see those related stories in the links above.