NEW ORLEANS - Only a small fraction of criminals pay the court-ordered restitution they owe to their victims in the metro area, according to an analysis of data from the judicial administrators in Orleans and Jefferson parishes, and police and prosecutors say there’s often little incentive for them to pay up.

An Eyewitness News analysis of the data found offenders paid just 10 percent of what they owe to their victims in Jefferson Parish alone last year.

Caught in the scheme

Tomeka Anderson was one of the unlucky victims of a real estate scheme featured in a series of WWL-TV investigative reports.

Anderson paid Decker Randolph, 41, and his company Faithful Real Estate Properties LLC, $11,000 for a down payment on a home Randolph was supposed to help her buy in 2015.

Their agreement stated Randolph and his company would purchase the home and after Anderson made a set number of payments, repairing her credit in the process, Randolph would re-finance the house in Anderson’s name.

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He called it a “No Credit Check Home Buyer Program,” and WWL-TV documented 22 people in 5 states who said they paid Randolph for similar services yet received nothing in return.

Anderson is a single mother of 4 daughters who works the overnight shift as a New Orleans Police Officer to support her family. Randolph’s scheme left her with little in the bank, living in a cramped apartment with her girls.

“They still ask me when are we moving in? And we don't have a house to really move into,” she said.

When confronted about the money he took from his victims, Randolph claimed he had a payment arrangement with Anderson to return her money. Anderson said he had stopped returning her calls and text messages several months before.

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When he took Anderson’s money, he was on probation after pleading guilty to theft for stealing from two other people in Jefferson Parish.

The judge in those cases had ordered him to pay his victims more than $21,000 in restitution.

Late last year, he pleaded guilty to felony theft again in both Jefferson and Orleans parishes for scamming Anderson and three others in December 2017.

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The judges sentenced him to 5 years in prison, and they raised his restitution debt to $35,350.

Anderson said she has no confidence she will ever get any of her money back from Randolph. He was released early from prison last June but still hasn’t paid a penny of her money back.

At a restitution hearing in September, Randolph vowed to pay her all of the money back saying, “That’s old.”

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But court records show Randolph still hasn't made a single payment in any of his cases, dating back to 2014.

Getting the criminals to pay up is a tall order

Prosecutors and police say Randolph's case is not unusual.

“Family members have died because they couldn’t cope with it,” said Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.

A WWL-TV analysis of NOPD calls for service data found 95 percent of alleged economic crimes reported to New Orleans Police never lead to an arrest.

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Cannizzaro’s office prosecuted nearly 200 economic criminals in 2017.

“I think that’s the overwhelming majority in the minds of the victims, ‘I just want to be made whole. I want back what this person took from me’,’ he said.

But getting the criminals to pay up can be a tall order. Records from the Orleans Parish Criminal Court administrator show the amount paid in restitution plummeted from more than $1.4 million in 2015 to $599,252 so far in 2018.

At this year’s collection rate, victims will be paid about half as much as they were three years ago.

“There is very, very little incentive for the person who has been convicted of a theft charge, an economic crime, to pay up,” Cannizzaro said.

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Data from the Jefferson Parish Court Administrator show, while judges have ordered criminals to pay $1.2 million in Jefferson over the last year, those offenders have only paid $128,112, about ten percent of what's owed.

Orleans Parish Judicial Administrator Rob Kazik said his records don't globally track how much judges have ordered offenders to pay there.

Some change might be coming

A series of judicial reforms passed by the legislature in 2017 and signed by Governor John Bel Edwards would dramatically change how restitution is collected for those with an inability to pay.

While judges will still be able to revoke probation for criminals who have the means to pay but choose not to, the new laws prohibit judges from putting criminals back in jail if they can’t pay. Plus, judges will only be able to force offenders to pay the equivalent of one day’s pay every month if they have income limitations.

Those new laws are scheduled to take effect in August 2019, but lawmakers said they expect changes to be made to them in the next legislative session before that happens.

And while some advocates would argue economic criminals would be better out of jail, where they can try to work to pay their victims back, Anderson said she believes Randolph should be behind bars.

“He’s not gonna pay me back out of jail. So, what’s the difference,” Anderson said.

Especially since Randolph was promoting his real estate business again online.

Randolph was promoting his real estate business again

“I’m buying houses like a dog in heat,” Randolph said in a Facebook post in August.

Two weeks ago, he posted, and re-posted a video of himself on LinkedIn urging real estate investors to contact him.

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“I'm in Louisiana and I purchase and I flip and I wholesale lots of single family resident houses. So, if you're looking to purchase some good, off-market discounted real estate deals, let me know,” he said to the camera.

Jeff and Donna Stewart found Randolph through one of his recent Facebook posts. They entered into a contract with him to buy their second home in the Shreveport area.

“He always talked to us like he was a big Christian man and was always praising God and the way he talked and all was, well, this is a nice person,” Donna Stewart said.

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They had listed the home with a realtor, and they had hoped to find a quick buyer. The proceeds from the sale of the house were supposed to help the pay off their retirement home in Gulfport.

“His whole entire game was to find a buyer so when we went to closing he just sat there and collected a check and he didn't put a dime out,” Donna said.

While it was under contract, Randolph posted ads on Facebook and Letgo! offering the house for sale at a price $30,000 more than what he was supposed to pay the Stewarts.

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It’s a real estate strategy known as ‘wholesaling’ a house, which is legal. But the Stewarts said Randolph wasn’t exactly forthcoming about the house in his marketing, a red flag for them.

“He started saying the house had wood floors throughout. There's not a wood floor in that house. It's carpet and linoleum. It said ‘All granite countertops.’ But they're not granite, they're laminate,” Donna said.

The closing never happened. Two days prior Randolph texted Jeff saying his business partner had died in a house fire in Houma and he couldn't complete the sale.

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“Now it looks like the house has been on the market forever and technically it hasn't been,” Donna said.

The only good thing, the Stewarts say, about their encounter with Randolph is they never gave him any money.

Louisiana AG has received 8 complaints on Randolph

During our investigation, we discovered 8 different complaints the La. Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division received about Decker Randolph and his company Faithful Real Estate Properties LLC.

Those complaints are contained in a new, searchable database WWL-TV created so that consumers can check out a company or an industry in their area before giving anyone a dollar.

You can use it here:

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