“One might argue that anyone doing business with Michael Morris should do their due diligence, and at the very least run his name and the companies he has been associated with through credit, civil and criminal indexes that are readily available to the public or a business,” an attorney seeking leniency at Monday’s federal prison sentencing for Michael Morris wrote in a court filing.
Yet when reporters at the Tulsa World did just that in February 2015, pointing out that Morris was running a charity in his son’s name, despite his own checkered history of federal prison sentences for financial crimes and fraud, he fought back with a vengeance — in public Facebook posts, messages and emails attacking their reporting.
“Yes, I have a past but that was many years ago. The most recent conviction was from 2003 for an offense in 1999, almost twenty years ago, hardly relevant. Why not focus on the good that is now being done for kids and others. But that doesn’t sell papers. At what point does someone get a new chance or a new chapter, or do we simply not allow them to be a part of our society or community?” Michael Morris wrote in one public response.
Not five months later, he was named in a sealed indictment by federal prosecutors, detailing how he defrauded several banks in a check kiting scheme that began in 2012, using his brother’s identity to establish as many as 70 bank accounts at local banks — kiting checks between them, timing deposits to avoid detection. The charges came on top of numerous lawsuits and court judgments against him for breach of contract and fraud, with a trail of unpaid debts in several states totaling more than $5 million.
And when Michael Morris is once again sentenced to federal prison on Monday, several former business partners and associates who were among his fraud victims told The Frontier they plan to be in the courtroom cheering, hoping that his latest conviction for financial crime will mean serious prison time.
Morris, 54, is scheduled to be sentenced Monday after pleading guilty in March to bank fraud and making false financial statements to financial institutions.
Morris was charged in December in the United States District Court in Tulsa. His girlfriend and business partner, Kristi Brooks, was also indicted in July 2015, but the indictment against her was dropped in December, court records show.
Morris’ attorney, Martin Hart, argued in a court filing that his client deserves leniency in sentencing because he suffers from bipolar disorder and is grief stricken over the 2013 death of his son.
His attorney appears to argue the businesses and people defrauded by Morris simply had it coming for not doing due diligence: “One could argue the financial institutions did not do their homework, and Mr. Morris was able to take advantage of their business practices.”
A response filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles McLoughlin details how he set up the check kiting scheme to help fund a string of “undercapitalized convenience stores” within six months of his last release from federal prison in 2011.
Morris’ check kiting scheme and bank fraud was “definitely conducted in a sophisticated manner by an individual who has honed his bank fraud skills for almost 30 years,” the filing states.
M&M Lumber, Whitney McKellar’s father’s lumber business, lost thousands of dollars doing work on properties for one of Morris’ real estate investment companies, when the properties ended up in foreclosure and their company’s liens were never paid. She said she’s angry about what Morris did, but his prison sentence doesn’t help their company’s bottom line.
She and many others mentioned Morris frequently talked of his son’s tragic death to engender sympathy and earn trust with business partners and charitable donors.
“To prey off people using that angle is a disease,” McKellar said. “Am I bummed about it? Yeah. Is it going to get us paid? No.”
As part of Morris’ plea agreement, he owes more than $1.5 million in restitution to eight banks and businesses:
- Tri-Lakes Petroleum Company, $1,323,024.72, for wire fraud and false statement on credit application.
- Quad, LLC, $84,876.79, for wire/mail fraud and false statements.
- Spirit Bank, $50,416.25, for check kiting.
- Great Southern Bank, $8,741, for bank fraud and check kiting.
- Chase Bank, $1,375.33, for bank fraud, opening account in another’s name without permission.
- Synchrony Bank, $1,1399.83, for band fraud, opening account in another’s name without permission.
- Navy Credit Union, $61,337.10, loan and bank fraud.
Morris’ sentencing date has been moved several times, reportedly to allow him to recover from back surgery and seek a psychological evaluation.
Some in Tulsa who allege they fell prey to Morris’s schemes in between his 2015 indictment and Monday’s sentencing told The Frontier they don’t understand why it’s taken the federal court system so long to put Morris in prison.
Dr. Jason Stansill said he had no idea of Morris’ criminal past when he agreed to work as the physician for New Life Medical, a medical spa offering weight loss treatments and other services. Brooks and Morris also used the facility for youth cardiac screenings at least once this year, in exchange for donations they solicited through the Chase Morris Foundation.
Within months of New Life’s opening, Stansill said he was out of a job and owed about $40,000 in pay, and the clinic was shuttered with unpaid bills. Now he’s being sued by patients who say they didn’t get services for which they paid in advance — but he wasn’t the business owner, he said.
He was angry when he learned about Morris’s criminal past, and that Morris was out on bond under the supervision of the federal court system when he left the customers and staff at New Life hanging.
“Had they done their job correctly this guy would have been in jail not scamming me for money,” Stansill said. “I’m mad at the criminal justice system for delaying and letting this criminal run around.”
It may have been Brooks’ name on documents, but Morris was running the company, Stansill said.
After Morris pleaded guilty in March, his attorney told reporters that the Chase Morris Foundation was not “very active anymore.” But just weeks before Morris signed a guilty plea, the charity was taking applications and charging for heart screenings at a local clinic.
Records show Morris has convictions for bank fraud, wire fraud and Social Security fraud dating back to 1988.
Morris was last released from federal prison in 2011 after serving three years for violating terms of his supervised release. That violation involved submitting false reports to his probation officer, lying about opening lines of credit, establishing new corporations and failing to disclose bank accounts.
Rusty Goodman, a local real estate investor who says he witnessed Morris commit fraud and unethical practices in real estate transactions while he was running the Chase Morris Foundation, said he plans to attend Morris’ sentencing.
“He is totally brilliant and habitual,” Goodman said. “The high of outmaneuvering and outthinking people and suckering innocent people into believing his scams. I think he really enjoys cheating people and lying to them.”