After listening to multiple fraud victims and a prosecutor describe Michael Morris as a “white-collar sociopath,” a federal judge sentenced him to more than six years in prison for his latest streak of financial crimes.
Michael Chase Morris, aka Michael Jeffrey Morris, 54, received the maximum recommended sentence Monday under federal guidelines: 78 months for committing bank fraud, obtaining fraudulent loans and kiting checks to float several businesses.
He was ordered to pay more than $1.6 million in restitution and a judge ruled that he will be allowed to surrender to the Bureau of Prisons in August.
A few months before his indictment in 2015, Morris was actively raising money for a charitable foundation he launched in his late son’s name, conducting media interviews for the Chase Morris Foundation and smiling for pictures with politicians.
A Tulsa World story in February 2015 questioned his role in the charity’s finances, given his extensive history of federal convictions for financial crimes. Morris contended at the time that he was a changed man and he was being unfairly questioned.
Within months, he was indicted on charges that 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 (as of 2015).
And in court Monday, it was Morris’ own family members and the oldest son of his girlfriend, Kristi Books, who testified about how Morris’ wrecked their credit and finances and threatened and harassed them. Brooks was also indicted in July 2015, but the indictment against her was dropped in December when Morris was formally charged, court records show.
Austin Reid, Brooks’ oldest son from a previous marriage, told the court how Morris opened lines of credit in his name without his permission, used Reid’s name to notarize documents and pressured Reid to obtain a real estate license so Morris could have him “sign any piece of paper that he put in front of me and give me a cut.”
Reid recounted how Morris grew increasingly angry because he refused to go along with those schemes.
U.S. District Judge Claire Eagan listened intently as Reid read from emails and texts Morris had sent him calling him “self-serving,” claiming documents showed Reid had committed fraud and Morris would have him thrown out of the University of Oklahoma.
Morris also used a fake name to try to have Reid fired from a job, he testified, and created fake accounts on social media to berate him and question his sexual identity.
“He stole my name, my home, my family and my mother,” Reid said. Brooks, his mother, left the room before he spoke, refusing to listen to his victim impact statement. Morris’ deceit also cost Reid his relationship with his younger brother, he told the court.
Morris also took out fraudulent lines of credit in his own sons’ names, his ex-wife Kim Williams told the judge. Morris recently took out more than $120,000 in credit in the name of her oldest son, and let one account fall more than $11,000 past due.
“He would repeatedly run up huge credit card debts, which he never had any intention of paying,” Williams told the court. “The only time he was ever remorseful is when he was in trouble with the law.”
She told him that she would have nothing to do with his efforts to raise money for the foundation he started in the name of their son, Chase, who died in 2013 “because it’s a scam if you have anything to do with it.”
Susan Kimball, a former mayor of Owasso, told the court about the impact of Morris’ refusal to pay her company, Kimball Lighting & Blinds, for than $11,000 worth of lighting work and window treatments. The unpaid bills for work on his real estate investment properties left her unable to give employees raises that year, Kimball said.
Morris’ cousin, Rafael Planos, described how he advocated for Morris to get out of prison early on one of his previous convictions, only to realize “he should have stayed there.”
Morris’ financial misdeeds cost Planos accounts and lines of credit with American Express and Chase. Planos helped Morris obtain a loan to buy a car and Morris repeatedly made late payments on it, he said.
He said he’s witnessed Morris spray-painting “nasty things” on walls about people who stand up to him, and has seen his cousin evolve into a “bad person.”
“Everything you’re hearing is true,” Planos told the court. “He’d steal cattle if you let him.”
Morris sat emotionless through most of the statements, but told Eagan in a brief statement he wanted to apologize to his family and friends for what he’d done to them.
“I’m just sorry to be here before you today,” Morris told the judge. She pointed out that she is the fourth federal judge he has appeared before in a history of convictions for financial crimes dating back to the late 1980s.
Charles McLoughlin, the assistant U.S. Attorney who has been prosecuting Morris since 1997, said Morris keeps committing the same crime over and over, only the names of the victims and banks change.
“He and I have grown old together while I have been sending him to prison,” McLoughlin said. “This has been an unbroken chain.”
Normally, the convicted person’s family may appear at sentencings to ask for leniency, but in this case, he used his own children’s identities to destroy their credit, McLouglin said.
“He is a white-collar sociopath,” McLoughlin said. “He enjoys the game, he enjoys screwing people over. He’s a charmer, and when the charm fails, he’s a bully.”
The U.S. Attorney’s office warned against allowing Morris to surrender on his own to prison in August instead of being placed in immediate custody, but Eagan ruled that he is a “suitable candidate” for self-surrender.
However, Eagan warned Morris that the U.S. Marshals office would find him if he tried to abscond before his surrender date.
Morris’ attorney, Martin Hart, had argued in a court filing that his client deserved leniency in sentencing because he suffers from bipolar disorder and is grief stricken over the 2013 death of his son.
Businesses and people defrauded by Morris perhaps had it coming, Hart wrote, 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.”
McLoughlin said he will likely retire before Morris’ 78 months in federal prison are complete (followed by five years of supervised release), but added: “I have no doubt that when Mr. Morris gets out, he’ll do it again.”